7 Tips for Grandparenting a Child With Special Needs

Attractive middle aged woman embrace little preschool frustrated kid sitting on couch together at home.

  • Grandparents can play an important role in supporting a special needs family. 
  • Grandparents can take an active role in the life of a child with a disability and have a special and close relationship with them. 
  • Grandparents are uniquely placed to be there for the whole family by offering their support to parents and siblings as well as their special needs grandchild. 

Grandparents are often some of the most supportive, loving, and special people in the life of a child. When a child has a disability, grandparents can play a significant role in helping the family with day-to-day life as well as advocating for and celebrating their grandchild and educating others. 

As a grandparent of a child with a disability, it may be difficult to know at first how to go about providing support to your children and grandchildren without overstepping boundaries. It’s also important to acknowledge your own feelings as you help your loved ones navigate the challenges your grandchild may face.  

However, there are many ways in which you can be an invaluable part of your family’s life whether you live close by or far away. Your love and the way you connect with your grandchild are really the most important things your family needs from you. Take a look a these tips for grandparenting a child with special needs and celebrating the joy they bring to your life. 

1. Educate Yourself About Your Grandchild’s Needs

Cherishing her grandmother.

One of the first and most important things you can do as the grandparent of a child with special needs is to learn about your grandchild’s diagnosis. It’s important not to make assumptions about what unique challenges your grandchild may face. 

Look for information from reliable sources to understand the child’s condition. Familiarize yourself with the types of therapies and treatments that are offered to children with this condition. 

The more you know and the more interest you take in your grandchild’s condition, the more you will be able to support them within the family as well as in public. 

2. Communicate Openly With Parents

Family birthday party.

Conflict can arise with parents when grandparents do not acknowledge the experience and expertise of parents as the primary caregivers. It’s important to understand that the parents will be the experts on their child’s needs. 

You may not understand or agree with all of their parenting decisions, but you can respect that parents are acting in the child’s best interests and that they are the decision-makers. 

However, there are many productive ways to offer your support without overstepping parental boundaries: 

  • Reserve giving your opinion unless it is asked for. 
  • Ask parents questions about things you don’t understand, and defer to their experience. 
  • Offer concrete things that you can do to help, like school pick-up, driving to medical appointments, or cooking a weekly meal. 
  • If you would like to do something for or with your grandchild, ask parents first—there may be safety considerations or other issues you don’t know about.
  • Communicate your willingness to learn and be supportive without judgment. 

3. Create a Safe and Inclusive Environment

Happy family elderly man and little boy smiling r while sitting on couch and reading fascinating fairy tale together at home.

If you would like to be involved in caregiving or you would like to spend time with your grandchild in your home, talk with parents about the adjustments you will need to make to accommodate the child’s physical or sensory needs. 

Create safe and inclusive play areas in your home where toys and activities are accessible and appropriate for your grandchild’s abilities. 

Understand that your grandchild may have difficulty with food, sounds, pets, textures, or certain spaces. It’s important to remain open, non-judgmental, and accommodating, even if you find these behaviors surprising or you haven’t experienced or seen them before. 

Children with special needs regularly encounter spaces that don’t accommodate them. Consider making your home one of the accessible spaces in which they know they will feel safe so they can enjoy their time with you. 

4. Support Siblings Without Special Needs

Grandma is teaching us her special recipe.

The siblings of children with special needs can often feel overlooked. They may also put pressure on themselves to take on chores and responsibilities to help their parents and special needs sibling which can lead to stress, anxiety, and burnout. 

Offering to spend time with your other grandchildren can be a huge help to overstretched parents. You can do a great deal to support the family by taking children to and from school, taking them to their activities, helping with homework, babysitting, or taking them out to give parents space or just to make them feel special. 

By spending time with the siblings of your special needs grandchild, you can give them a much-needed outlet to vent their feelings. It can be very helpful to the family as a whole if the siblings of a special needs child are getting the support they need too. 

5. Understand Your Own Limits 

Elderly woman is spending time with her disgruntled granddaughter.

AARP11. Moeller, S.. How to Grandparent a Child With Special Needs. AARP. 2021. https://www.aarp.org/home-family/friends-family/info-2021/special-needs-grandchildren.html#:~:text=Find%20support%20for%20yourself.,thing%2C%E2%80%9D%20says%20Harrington%20Meyer. , the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting older Americans, has great advice for grandparents of special needs children. 

While it’s understandable that many grandparents want the best for their children and grandchildren, it’s important not to overextend yourself financially or physically. 

AARP recommends that you seek advice so that you don’t risk your own financial future while providing monetary help to your family. Many grandparents understandably want to give everything they can to their children and grandchildren. However, getting into financial difficulty to do so will not be beneficial in the long run. 

In addition, when things become physically more difficult as both you and your grandchild age, it’s important to recognize that you will need to adjust what you can do for everyone’s safety. 

6. Find Support For Yourself 

Joyful grandkid girl and adult daughter woman hugging happy excited grandma.

When a grandchild has a disability, everyone in the family will have their own emotional response and concerns, including grandparents. 

The concerns and reactions of grandparents will naturally be different to those of parents or siblings, so find a supportive network where you can ask questions and express your feelings about your disabled grandchild. 

Online communities that focus on disability can be a great source of emotional support and a way to find other grandparents in similar situations. 

If you have become the legal guardian or primary caregiver of a disabled grandchild,22. Rosen, P.. When Grandparents Are Caregivers or Guardians of Kids Who Learn and Think Differently. Understood. https://www.understood.org/en/articles/when-grandparents-are-caregivers-or-guardians-of-kids-who-learn-and-think-differently you will be facing a different set of challenges. Reaching out to other relatives, the child’s school, and their IEP team is very important. 

7. Celebrate Your Grandchild 

Smiling grandmother making surprise to cute little granddaughter giving gift box.

While a disabled child may face many different challenges—be they physical, medical, emotional, or behavioral—it’s important to remember that they also have abilities, strengths, and talents that should be recognized and celebrated. 

One of the best ways that you can be an advocate for your disabled grandchildren is by acknowledging their successes and encouraging their abilities.

According to Grandkids Matter33. When Grandchildren Have Disabilities. GrandkidsMatter. 2016. https://grandkidsmatter.org/hot-topics/grandchildren/when-grandchildren-have-disabilities , an online resource for grandparents, it’s important to celebrate your grandchild by: 

  • Being intentional and creative in finding activities to do with your grandchild in which they can succeed. 
  • Trying not to be too overprotective or underestimating your grandchild’s abilities. 
  • Developing your grandchild’s interests and focusing on their “giftedness” by encouraging and supporting them in things they like to do. 


What resources are available for grandparents raising grandchildren with a disability, including support groups and counseling?

Start your search for information, support, and counseling online. There are many general resources as well as disability-specific groups and organizations that you can contact for help and support. Here are just a few examples: 

  • The AARP website is full of articles and resources for grandparents raising grandchildren.  
  • Autism Grandparents Club is a website and Facebook support group. 
  • Grandfamilies.org has information about laws and grandparents’ rights in every state. 
  • ADDitudemag is a great resource for learning about ADHD and where to find support and information. 


  1. Moeller, S. (2021, March 1). How to Grandparent a Child With Special Needs. AARP. https://www.aarp.org/home-family/friends-family/info-2021/special-needs-grandchildren.html#:~:text=Find%20support%20for%20yourself.,thing%2C%E2%80%9D%20says%20Harrington%20Meyer.
  2. Rosen, P. (n.d.). When Grandparents Are Caregivers or Guardians of Kids Who Learn and Think Differently. Understood. https://www.understood.org/en/articles/when-grandparents-are-caregivers-or-guardians-of-kids-who-learn-and-think-differently
  3. When Grandchildren Have Disabilities. GrandkidsMatter. (2016, December 14). https://grandkidsmatter.org/hot-topics/grandchildren/when-grandchildren-have-disabilities
Tips for Grandparenting a Child With Special Needs

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