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It is never easy to deal with the stress and disappointment of a baby born with handicapping conditions, and it is especially hard if the child is our own grandchild. Whether the special circumstance is mild or severe, we may find ourselves longing for the joy of the “normal.” However, it is vital that we come to grips with the situation as it is, and find ways to work through the disappointing circumstances. We can grow along with our children who have to learn to parent this new child, usually without any prior preparation for the challenges. This is a time we step up to the challenge and lend our support, love and practical gifts of time and energy.

Part of the coping process may be in giving up the need to know “why” this event occurred. Even if you have knowledge that this misfortune could have been prevented, there is no benefit in placing blame. It may be necessary to ensure that there is intervention to prevent another pregnancy if drugs or alcohol were abused during this pregnancy however. But in general, speculation about the reason for a defect is not a profitable quest for anyone concerned. As in any grief process, we may find ourselves cycling through shock and disbelief, disappointment and sadness and then moving on to acceptance and the desire to take action to be useful to our family in this new time of need.

Our first task is to become informed on the disease or condition. We need to read all we can and study to be able to learn the best ways to be of help. Caring for special needs children will place higher levels of stress on parents than usual and if you can come alongside them and provide respite care, you will be giving a wonderful gift. We may need to learn how to do medical procedures or provide types of therapy. We may need to learn how to play with and love this new child who is different from others. We can do it.

In time there will be a regular rhythm to family life that includes a special needs child. The family will work together to do what is necessary. There may be times we choose to take the responsibility of traveling with our special needs grandchild. In that case prior planning is essential. We will now know what is required and will be able to request things like special menus, wheelchair access, and short wait times in public places, etc.  We’ll learn to deal with some of the negatives of public stares and questions, but we’ll also find that people are loving and accepting if given the chance.

As our special needs child grows up to adulthood we have the option of being a very important part of his or her life. We can be the champion who cheers when developmental milestones are met. We can encourage every possible kind of growth and provide the extra practice time that this child needs. We can give parents much-needed breaks from their responsibilities with this child and we can do the one thing that is never wrong—we can love them with all our heart.

There is a wonderful book entitled Grandparenting a Child with Special Needs by Dr. Charlotte E. Thompson. It addresses the growing role grandparents are playing in raising children with special needs. It is a useful resource and may be found at