Grandparent's information sheet


Grandparents can be key people in their grandchildren’s lives. The relationship between a grandparent and grandchild is often a special one. When a grandchild is diagnosed with autism grandparents often grieve twice; once for their child who is the parent and again for the grandchild (Sullivan et al, 2012; Hillman 2007). Grandparents, like their adult child, will experience their own range of emotions in response to the news.  

What is autism?

Autism is a neurological disorder. It is characterised by difficulties in the following areas:

  • Communication
  • Social interactions
  • Restricted interests and repetitive behaviour
  • Sensory processing

Autism is seen as a ‘spectrum’ condition because no two people with autism are alike. People on the autism spectrum may share similar characteristics but the impact of these characteristics on each individual varies.

Supporting your adult child

As a grandparent you can be a great source of support to your adult child. Having an honest conversation about what support they need is a good starting point as the nature and amount of help that your child will need can vary considerably. Support could look like:

  • Practical support, e.g. errands, cleaning, child minding
  • Emotional support for your child
  • Planning opportunities for you to spend time with just the sibling/s of your grandchild on the autism spectrum
  • Learning about autism and how it impacts on your grandchild
  • Offering to attend therapy appointments and school appointments as a support person

Supporting your grandchild

Not only can you be a great source of support for your adult child, you can also play an important role in the life of your grandchild on the autism spectrum. Ideas to foster positive interactions could include:

  • learning about your grandchild’s strengths and interests
  • finding a special activity you can do together
  • pre-warning your grandchild of any changes
  • creating a visual schedule of what you are going to do together
  • using simple, concrete language

Looking after yourself

In order to support others, you need to firstly look after yourself. As a grandparent, you can and often do play an important role in the lives of your grandchild on the autism spectrum and their families, but it is also important to take care of yourself so you can help care for your family. It is essential that you look after your own health and take time for yourself. You may also wish to consider joining a grandparent support group or seek out others in a similar situation to talk to.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How is autism diagnosed? There is no blood test or genetics test for autism. Diagnosis is made by an experienced clinician or a team of professionals including  paediatricians, psychologists and speech pathologists. A diagnosis of autism is  based on observed behaviours, along with information about the child’s development.

Where can I go to find out more about autism? In Australia, each state and territory has an autism association that you can contact to find out more information. Your local library should also have books and/or DVDs on autism. Your adult child may also be able to provide you with information that relates specifically to your grandchild. This website ( also has a great deal of information about autism and how to help.

My grandchild has just been diagnosed with autism. What intervention should they do? Parents can be overwhelmed with the amount of information given following a diagnosis and may be unsure about which intervention/s to try. It is recommended that parents look at the evidence behind an intervention before trying it. For more information see the ‘Using evidence to guide decision making’ fact sheet and the ‘Questions to ask when choosing interventions’ fact sheet on the Positive Partnerships website. It is important to remember that not all interventions that you will hear about or that seem popular will be based on good evidence. 

My grandchild has challenging behaviour. What can I do to stop the behaviour?  All behaviour has a purpose and can serve as a form of communication for a child. New skills can be taught to replace the challenging behaviour. Learn more about supporting behaviour.  

My grandchild is a picky eater. How can I get them to eat a variety of food and vary their diet? Talk to your adult child about your grandchild’s preferred food items and if it is a goal for them to be encouraging their child to try new foods. Your adult child may also be able to offer you suggestions of strategies that they are trying at home.


Hillman, J. (2007). Grandparents of children with autism: A review with recommendations for education, practice and policy. Educational Gerontology, 33,.513-527.

Miller, E., Buys, L. & Woodbridge, S. (2012). Impact of disability on families: Grandparents’ perspectives. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 56, 102-110

See also:

Brereton, A. (2007). Grandparents of children with autism. Retrieved 28 Oct 2014 from - Link no longer available