Talking to Grandparents

Positive family support is brilliant to have, and is especially vital in a crisis which might be what an autistic person experiences prior to formal recognition.

It is really important to recognise that our individual understanding of what it means to be autistic is grounded in how neurodivergence has been understood in the past.

Where there are multiple generations in a family, there can SOMETIMES be a lack of knowledge of the needs of a younger person and the benefits of recognition of their needs based on historical information about autism and ‘difference’.

Signposting older generations and other family members to relevant up to date information can provide an additional layer of support which can scaffold families and be better for everyone. Your grandchild is the same person they have always been – they need extra support right now.

With the right support and right environment/adaptations, your grandchild WILL be OK. They WILL be successful. They WILL find their own way forward.

Summary of key points

Understanding of the presentation of autism, especially in people who ‘mask’, has changed hugely over time.

Older generations were very clear about what autism ‘looked like’ and many of these views have now been discredited. An example of discredited views about difference might be how being left-handed was viewed in the past, and how much damage was caused by the awful practices associated with forcing people to use their right hands.

The definitions of autism in the past were also based upon ‘acting out’, and very ‘visible’ differences reinforced in film and TV. The formal diagnostic criteria have changed considerably in more recent times.

In the past, there was also a sense of ‘shame’ associated with being autistic or having an autistic family member.

Older generations may have been influenced by this, and a period of adjustment might be necessary. This can only come with education and awareness.

What can help ?

As a Grandparent, one of the most vital things you can do is learn all you can about autism, masking, and the individual needs and experiences of your grandchild.

The resources on the Autistic Girls Network might be a good place to start.

Please recognise that the very best sources of information are autistic people themselves.

There is nothing that CAN or SHOULD be done to change or stop someone being autistic – no diets, training or conversion therapies. There is a huge and dangerous ‘market’ suggesting ideas that can or will reduce or prevent autism. All of these have been discredited, and autistic people who have been exposed to things such as ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis) have been damaged and traumatised by these practices.

Familiarise yourself with Social Media and campaigning – share as much as you can, especially to your own peer group, your MP and decision makers. Make a noise! Your grandchild’s experience of a supportive environment will help them thrive in their education and adolescence and be a happy. healthy autistic adult.

If they feel safe and happy with you, continue to offer that space and ask them if there is anything else that you can do to help them.

If there have been changes in your grandchild’s interaction with you, for instance, they no longer want to leave the safety of their own home, see if there are ways that you can support them in their own home.

If the child’s parents are struggling with services and processes, see if they need your support in adding a voice? If not, maybe see if you can raise awareness of the issues with your MP, councillors, service leaders etc.

Recognise that your grandchild is not to blame in ANY WAY for the difficulties that they are experiencing; however the impact of their experience may affect the whole household. Parents may have to change their hours of work, give up working, other children in a household might notice changes and react. Ask WHAT you can do to help? Listen, don’t judge.

Just as an aside ….

One comment we hear reported all the time is

‘They’re not autistic. They are just like you were/my sister was/Auntie Jasmine is’

Yes, the youngster may well be like others in the family. But perhaps those other family members were/are autistic too? Neurodivergence is known to be inherited at around 80%. It is also known to be under-recognised in those who mask or who were assigned female at birth.

Maybe you, the parent of the young person, your sister or Auntie Jasmine is autistic too?