17 February 2022

How to be a grandparent to a child with disabilities


Children with disabilities and special needs require specific attention, whether that be emotional and learning support or the installation of mobility equipment like stairlifts. For grandparents of such children, the role before them may be daunting and different to what they are used to. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t have a wonderful, close relationship with disabled grandchildren. In this guide, we provide some tips for grandparenting a child with disabilities, so you can be the loving relative they need and be a vital support for the child’s parents.

Before we dive into some tips, Kerry Thompson, a disability blogger at My Life Kerry’s Way, spoke to us about what an important role grandparents can play in a disabled child’s life: “Whether a child is born with a disability or becomes disabled later in life, their needs will likely change the whole family. And grandparents are no exception. In fact, they can play a vital role in providing support for their adult children and care for their grandchildren. But navigating this sensitive terrain can be challenging for all.”

Read on for some specific tips and advice for grandparents.

Be informed about your grandchild’s disability

The first step to being a great grandparent to a child with a disability is being informed about their diagnosis and condition. Disability blogger Kerry Thompson spoke to us about her advice for grandparents, advising that they should “do some research,” as “the more knowledge you have is better than nothing.”

Enabling Devices, who provide toys for children with special needs, advise: “Once you know about a grandchild’s diagnosis, do some homework to learn as much as possible about her special needs. This will help you to understand how you can be most helpful.”

By taking the time to understand how their disability will impact their life, you can be ready and prepared for being an integral part of it yourself. You will be able to help care for them, support them, offer aid to the parents, and in some small way understand the difficulties such a disability presents to the child.

Help out the parents where you can 

mother and daughter

Being the parent of a child with disabilities or special needs isn’t easy so they will need all the help they can get. Making the effort to be available to help look after the child or even to lend a hand with unrelated chores will be hugely appreciated. Being a supportive grandparent also means being there emotionally for the parents and showing you are behind them.

Kerry Thompson shares grandparents should try and “respect the parents’ wishes,” and “be their support even if you feel what they believe is wrong.”

Being emotionally supportive is something that Emma, a disability blogger of the website Simply Emma, says grandparents should make sure to do, as well making sure to convey your unconditional love: “I think it's important for grandparents to be there as much as possible, both physically and emotionally for the parents and children. Sometimes emotional support can be more helpful depending on the circumstances as some days are harder than others. Most importantly don’t treat them differently because of their disability. Treat and love them unconditionally like any other child. And ultimately have fun and create wonderful memories the whole family can cherish.”

Kerry adds: “Don’t treat them any differently,” but instead “listen, learn and communicate.” 

Find things you can enjoy together

While there may be things that you enjoy doing with your other grandchildren that your disabled grandchild is unable to do, this doesn’t mean you can’t find other fun things to enjoy together. Finding these things that you can enjoy with your grandchild is important and will help to create a bond that is special between the two of you and show that you want to spend time with them. Do they love tractors? Go look at tractors together. Do they enjoy watching sports? Sit down and watch a game with them. Learn about your grandchild, discover what they enjoy, and arrange hobbies and activities to experience together.

Create a routine for when the child is with you

grandfather and child

Depending on the disability or special needs of your grandchild, routines and habits can be very important in helping them feel safe and happy. If you are going to be spending time with your grandchild, put a routine in place that they can become familiar with. Not only will this help with any anxiety the child is feeling but it can be beneficial to you as well if being with the child involves specific care.

Renae, from the blog Every Star is Different, is a mother to two autistic children, and has spoken about how creating a routine can help: “Anytime they see you, they can look forward to these routines and rituals. These do not have to be linked to the grandchild's interests, as they will change over time, but must be something that the grandparent and grandchild both enjoy.”

Don’t ask too much of yourself

It’s important to not push yourself beyond your limits. Of course, you want to be there for the grandchild and help the child’s parents, making life easier for them, but you won’t help anyone if you ask too much of yourself. Growing older comes with its own difficulties and limitations so being sensible with the level of care you can provide will make sure both you and your grandchild are happy. If you want to help financially with your grandchild’s care, that’s wonderful, but be reasonable and seek financial advice if necessary.

Find support and connect with others

It can be tremendously helpful to find support for yourself as a grandparent of a disabled child, especially if you are heavily involved in looking after them. Seek out others in your position, talk to the child’s other grandparents so you can rely on each other for help and advice, make use of the resources available to people in your situation, and join online or in-person support groups – something that Kerry Thompson recommends: “It’s always good to have people you can turn to that understand.”

Contact, a charity for families with disabled children, is a great place to start and can help you find the support you need. Their guide for grandparents, for example, is a resource that is rich with information.

How to be a grandparent to a disabled child

  • Be informed about your grandchild’s disability
  • Help out the parents where you can
  • Find things you can enjoy together
  • Create a routine for when the child is with you
  • Don’t ask too much of yourself
  • Find support and connect with others

Being a grandparent to a child with a disability might not always be straightforward but it’s a wonderful thing nonetheless. Hopefully, these tips have been useful, and you can enjoy a wonderful, close relationship with this special member of your family.

If your grandchild has limited mobility and you want to make your home more accessible, please take a look at our stairlift advice page.

For more tips, guides, and advice, make sure to visit our news page.