Today Andrew answers: How can I, as the grandmother of a diagnosed five-year-old grandson be a solid support to him and his parents? I live in CA and they live in AZ.
Hi! I’m Andrew from Generation Mindful's newest recurring weekly feature, Ask Andrew. In Ask Andrew, I’ll be taking any and all questions regarding the autism spectrum with particular emphasis on childhood development as an authentic autistic adult. Let’s get started!
For our fifth Q and A, you can watch the video and/or read my response below.
Thanks for your question, Paula. The best advice I have to give is when in doubt, treat your grandson like any other grandchild. That’s what my grandparents sought to do. I’d like to highlight a few key examples from my personal life that I believe all grandparents should aspire to.
In a twist of fate, both my maternal and paternal grandfathers were educators. The maternal one, who I’ll call Grandpa Joe, was an elementary school teacher. The paternal one, who I’ll call Grandpa George, was a college professor. They are both currently happily enjoying semi-retirement because at their core they can’t resist a challenge.
As such, they individually nurtured a love of learning in me. That there was a huge world of possibilities out there, and I owed it to myself to learn from it. Joe is a major advocate of history, science, and literature, taking me on trips to parks, bookstores, and museums. I’m not entirely unconvinced he’s the reincarnation of Theodore Roosevelt, he has such a seize the day attitude.
The way I chose to name my grandparents’ pseudonyms in my piece is actually a reference to one of his favorite books. The first person to understand the reference and email Generation Mindful about it will get a special shout-out in my next installment.
As for George… a little history with me and math. I have a frenemy relationship with it. Sometimes we get along, sometimes we fight like cats.
Knowing this, in one of the hardest courses I’ve ever taken, George actually took the time to sit down and talked it through with me. In college. While he was working at the same time. And thanks to him, I got an A in a math class. We watched the James Bond film Dr. No to celebrate together. The scenes 007 and Q shared together struck a new chord with me altogether.
As for my grandmothers, my maternal one is Grandma Josephine and my paternal one is Grandma Georgina. They imbued me with a sense of artfulness, that I can look at life from a different angle and come to a better conclusion than what’s in front of me.
My Grandma Josephine sadly isn’t with us anymore, but considering how spiritual she was it’s almost as if she’s sitting in the room with me as I’m writing this. I can feel her tapping my shoulder and warning me not to sneak a peek at her cards next time we play pounce... or else. More than any other relative she is the reason movies are one of my special interests. Whenever me and my sister came over, we stacked a bunch of DVDs on top of one another and had huge marathons.
Those evenings also consisted of card games, teaching us how to cook and teaching us to expand our understanding of our surroundings. That life was not a one-way street, we could forge our own path and experiment. It’s never a bad time to stop and smell the roses.
My Grandma Georgina, from day one, has been one of Ask Andrew’s biggest allies. I credit her for having inspired me to suggest I do a weekly column because she took a feeling of confidence I held in my writing and perspective and focused it.
Her enthusiasm was so great upon hearing I had gotten the job of a writer for Generation Mindful in a fit of genius she suggested the brilliant title Dear Aspie, a play on Dear Abby. At times I wish I had gone with it for the ingenious pun, but ultimately Ask Andrew better captures my intentions for writing.
Grandma Georgina in particular could sense that I could use a little extra help from day one. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up, so she became one of my first friends. Her greatest gift was imbuing in me a great sense of optimism. That even when bad things happen, there is still good in this world, in people.
As for something specific as to the geography of where you live versus where your grandson is, there is a lot more time in between visits to check in with his parents about what his needs are before they come over. Use it! Ask medical info, personality quirks, what they like to do, etc. Spend some one-on-one time too, show the child they can feel safe around you and have a different kind of fun.
Ultimately, your best grandparenting style will come down to what you feel you can do best for your grandson. No one grandparent was the same addressing my needs as an autistic child, even though they all were all very good at it.
For instance, my Grandma Georgina once gifted me the boardwalk in Monopoly because I was upset I was losing and was about to have a major meltdown. However, if my anecdote about her and the cards earlier didn’t make it clear, the odds of my Grandma Josephine doing the same thing if I was about to cry? When pigs fly.
Additionally, it is best to let your grandchild make the first move. I am proud of my identity as an autistic man, but it isn’t what I wish to be known for, and definitely don’t want to be seen as incapable of making my own choices.
Issues regarding self-confidence are common among autistics such as myself. We often have embarrassment asking for help. The simplest strategy comes down to letting it be known you are there to help, and then when it looks like they’re in trouble, offer it.
In conclusion, the bond between a grandparent and a grandchild is a beautiful relationship that functions on different rules between that of a parent and child, and even though I strongly recommend giving the same answer your child and their spouse would give in the same situation, there is no rule you have to say or do it in the same way. I wish you and your family the best.
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