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A Grandmother’s Story

September is National Grandparents Month, and Autism Speaks is Celebrating Grandparents! Below is a blog post by Kay Richardson, the grandmother of a young boy with autism.

I would like to tell my story. My grandson, Hunter, is 9 years old and was diagnosed at 2-1/2 with mild-to-moderate autism. He is the joy of my life.

Even though the initial diagnosis was shocking and somewhat heartbreaking, if I had known then what I know now, it would have made such a difference. This is what I would like other grandparents of newly-diagnosed kids to know. It does get better, especially if your family takes advantage of all the great information and resources available.

I have been so fortunate to be involved with Hunter’s life from the beginning. He has always loved to spend the night at Granny’s house because he gets one-on-one attention. I have the luxury of time to spend with him and we do all kinds of fun and different things his parents don’t have time to do with him.

Early on, when he was 5 or 6, I would take him along to the botanical gardens I volunteered for and he helped me weed, or he played in the dirt, watched bugs and birds. I got him a local, regional bird identification book eventually and he actually memorized it! He has grown to be very respectful and protective of nature and creatures.

Examples of other things we do (besides just hanging out at home):

  • We went for a ride on a rural excursion train. (He has been in love with trains since he was a toddler and has about 150 Thomas train cars!)
  • Our city sponsored a “Get Out and Play Day” where he experienced rock wall climbing, archery and fishing!
  • We go to the library every other Wednesday evening. He now has his own card. His favorite books are non-fiction ones about trains, weather (hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters), animals and reptiles.
  • We go on bike rides, and bird watching hikes.
  • In a couple weeks I am taking him to a Heritage Festival where he can see old farming equipment at work, shuck corn and watch a pie-eating contest (I can’t wait for his reaction to that).

The possibilities are really endless. You just need to plan and anticipate any circumstances which might upset or confuse, but that becomes second nature as time goes by.

I feel very blessed to have been given the gift of grandmothering Hunter. His perspective is unique and pure and this is the important thing I think grandparents of newly-diagnosed kids need to know. As grandparents, we have the patience we didn’t have the first time around. Mercifully, we get a second chance! Our reward? A relationship like no other. Take it from Hunter who, when asked by a teacher or principal who I am, says, “Oh, that’s my friend Granny!”

I do blog on occasion about our escapades and my thoughts about grandmothering Hunter. Check it out here!

Click here to view A Grandparent’s Guide: Autism Speaks Family Support Tool Kit

  1. Tammy
    September 16, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    I totally agree! I am also a grandmother with a grandson who is autistic and he is the most precious thing and so very thoughtful of others and always protecting me even from his little brother. He has been able to spend time with me since his birth and I have been a part of his diagnosis and treatment. It does get easier as you go along. He is the joy of my life and my most precious gift from God. He has many other medical problems beside the autism but is such a little trooper you would never know. If you listen and take notice of the things that can trigger break downs you can prevent most of them. It is not an easy condition for anyone but it can be handled with lots of love, time and care. I read what others have to say and how they handle situations and some work and some don’t but you will learn what is good for your grandchild with a little time. I thank God everyday that I have the time to spend with him and help out anyway I can. Good Luck! We just need to pray for understanding from those who don’t have to deal with a child who is autistic.

  2. Debbie Brooker
    September 16, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    I would love to share this with my local support group via our newsletter. Is this ok? I will share the link to this page and reference the author of course. Our newsletters are sent out by normal mail, and also electronically and sometimes appear on the website of Autism Queensland. Hope to hear from you soon, as your story would be wonderful to share with other Grandparents. I know I can relate as my dear Mum (who now sadly has alzhiemers and in aged care), was a gem for my son as he was growing up. Their one on one time together was constructive and loving and likewise his relationship with his Grandad too was so special. He loved to talk to Grandad and he has said that Grandad was a great listener (we lost Grandad 4 years ago). I think it was they were very alike in some ways, men of few words and Grandad had all the time in the world to completely be absorbed by his Grandson’s visit and conversation. Anyway hoping you will grant me permission to share your story in our newsletter. our email address is autismmackay@gmail.com

  3. Christina
    September 16, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    does anyone have any current info on stem cell research for autism?
    Has anyone heard or gone to Dr. Rader for stem cell treatment?

  4. deborah sauter
    September 17, 2011 at 10:34 am

    i am the grandmother of a 4 year old autistc boy named max. i have custody of him as hjs mother recently died of a drug overdose.i actually have had custody for the last year.it is just max and me as other than morning classes at the local elementary school,i really don’t have any help.my other daughter works long hours and has 2 children of her own so she is unable to take him for me very often.fortunately, he is a very loving and affectionate child so caring for him,although intense, is easier than it could be.he is just now beginning to say some words,says his ABC’s and counts to 10.he has been in occupational therapy and speech therapy since he was 2 and 1/2 when he was diagnosed.i knew at about 13 months old that he was probably autistic as he did not make much eye contact and the few words he started to say he no longer used. he also did not babble as little ones do.at that time, his doctor did not want to make that diagnosis as he was so young.finally, at almost 2 1/2 i took him to a neuropediatrician and he was dignosed.
    i feel fortunate to have him in my life. the days can be long but i work with him at home.the use of flash cards have been very helpful in learning words and recently i was given an I-PAD which he loves to use.many apps are available for young children and autistic children.he is a very visual child, so using these types of things are helpful.
    he loves to be outside looking at leaves and flowers and playing in the dirt,he also loves the water as most autistic children do, so i have him in adaptive aquatics as he knows no fear around water and will go into any water at anytime.he also loves to run so i always have to have him in a fully fenced area as he will just keep going and not come back when you call his name. at 66 years of age i cannot run as fast as i could so catching him when he takes off is not an option!
    this is not what i had planned to be doing at my age but he was given to me for a reason so this is now my life.i am thrilled that he is making some progress, so to all grandparents with autistc grandchildren,hang in there and watch them grow!

    • Debbie Landry
      September 20, 2011 at 8:20 pm

      God Bless you Deborah! My prayers are with you. I am a grandmother to a 5 y.o. high-functioning autistic, but we do not have him full time, maybe 3-4 days/wk.

      I resigned from my job to be a caretaker to Dexter, next to his mom and dad. It is not what I had in mind for my retirement life either, but like you, I feel this is what God has chosen for me. Nothing else matters except my Dexter’s welfare. There is nothing else in life that I want to be doing now except contributing to the betterment of Dexter’s life.
      These babies are so innocent, loving, genius and need people like us to protect them! Dex has brought a whole new perspective and rearranged priorities in our lives. Imagine where Max would be if not for you.
      So, good luck , God Bless and pray!!

  5. Stephanie
    September 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Deborah, although I am not a grandmother of an autistic child, I am a mother of two autistic children one of which is 11 years and the other is a twin at 2 1/2. I had issues with both of them darting off from me and not coming when called which can be a nerve racking and a dangerous situation. My oldest just seemed to grow out of it and at the time I really didn’t get any help with ideas on how to stop this behavior. My youngest son is in CHAPS an intense therapy for the acquisition of language skills. Myself and the therapist have implemented a program for him in which we get him to stop and actually turn and look at us. We started out in the backyard, and as he was running we ran next to him and took him by the arm and we practiced stop and we both stopped. We did this everyday until he got used to it. Then we would do the same thing with him but not holding his hand or arm and would say STOP! and eventually he would stop on his own. Then we added his name and eyes on me for the last step. This took well over 6 months and we still work on this everyday. But this has made such a difference. Although it isn’t fool proof he is still 2 1/2 and very unpredictable I feel like it has made a big difference. You may also look in your area for programs in which they have a person actually come to your house and help you or even babysit for you. I believe that they are state run. I may be mistaken but ask around . I’m not 66 years old but I can barely keep up with my son when he darts so I feel your pain. Your an awesome person to have taken this kind of challenge on at your age. Your grandson is blessed to have you in his life. God blesses special people with special children.

  6. September 20, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    My wife and I were able to go on our first vacation – alone – in more than 10 years thanks to my Mom, Sherry Breedlove. We struggled mightily with leaving our 2 boys affected by autism – along with our 17 year old, 15 year old, and twin 3 year olds. What would we do without the kids garndparents. I wrote about it here: http://1in110.com/?p=3903

  7. September 21, 2011 at 10:09 am

    thanks to all of you who responded to my letter with suggestions, support and encouragement.it is helpful to know that there are others out there dealing with the challenges of raising an autistic child.bless all of you!

  8. November 11, 2011 at 8:00 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Austim affects so many families, and the help and love of a grandparent means a lot.

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