Grandparents’ Day in the UK on Sunday, October third, should be a day to toast all grandparents who help with their grandchildren.

But the grandparents who care for a child with special needs, either part or full-time, should have very special commendations. It takes great caring and love to cope with the many problems of a child with special needs. Your patience needs to be unlimited and there are days when you want to walk or run away, but know that you can not do so.

It can also be very painful to see the challenges that the parents and child are facing. Not only do you, as grandparents, suffer for the family, but you have to find a way to handle your own pain.

The dreams you have had of just being able to love and have fun with your grandchild are gone. Instead, you realise that each day will mean new challenges, but also some worries. Yes, you can walk away, as many grandparents do. Yet in your heart you know that you are important to your grandchild and he or she is extremely important to you. The six years that I spent helping my son raise his children were often very tiring but the kids and I became extremely close and they taught me a great deal.

Remember though there will be moments of great frustration, there will also times be times of joy and triumph in overcoming some real challenges. Knowing that you play or played an important part in helping your grandchild achieve goals should give you a sense of great pride. You will also discover some unexpected sources of strength and competence of which you were not aware.

Each child is a unique, special human being. Some people are unable or don’t want to see beyond the autism or special problems and miss a child’s unusual qualities. Finding that uniqueness takes tremendous love, time, and effort, but the rewards will be great for you and your grandchild.

As grandparents, we can offer the wisdom and experience gained from raising our own children and coping with unexpected obstacles. It is important, however, that we find ways to take care of ourselves while helping with our grandchildren. Making time for some fun and exercise are essential. Otherwise the stress and worry of having a grandchild with special needs can be overwhelming. Living one day at a time and trying to find some special moments in that day can make all the days much easier and more pleasant.

Charlotte E.Thompson M.D. is a pediatrician and specialist in children’s muscle diseases. She founded and directed the Center for Handicapped Children in San Fransisco for 23 years and has worked as a consultant for six pediatric neuromuscular programs. She is a mother of two and a grandmother and lives in California.

Dr Thompson is the author of Grandparenting a Child with Special Needs, a unique guide for grandparents keen to make a difference to the lives of their children and their grandchildren. See below for details.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

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