Being a grandparent of a child with learning and attention issues comes with a unique set of challenges. That’s true no matter how much day-to-day involvement a grandparent has with her grandchild.
When grandparents are legal guardians, there are added complications. They need to understand how the law protects them and their grandchild, and how special education works. They may also face financial stresses or demands because of their grandchild’s needs.
If you’re the grandparent of a child with learning and attention issues, finding your own support network can be tough. So can talking with your grandchild’s parents or other family members. And simply understanding learning and attention issues can be hard.
Learn more about these challenges, and how grandparents can help their grandchild with learning and attention issues.
Grandparents as Caregivers
Many grandparents act as a primary caregiver when parents are working or are temporarily unable to care for their child. It can be a rewarding (and sometimes exhausting) role. But this role is very different from being the child’s legal or “custodial” guardian.
Caregivers don’t have legal rights to act on their grandchild’s behalf at school or with health-care professionals. If you take care of your grandchild, but aren’t her legal guardian, you may be able to work with her teacher. But you’re not able to sign off on or oversee her special education services.
Grandparents as Guardians
Grandparents are guardians for nearly 1 million kids in the U.S. (Another 1.9 million kids are cared for by other relatives.) That role often falls to them when parents are unable to care for their child. The parents may be ill, out of work, using drugs or in jail.
Being a legal guardian gives grandparents the same rights as a parent. So all the laws that cover special education and disability rights apply. That means they have a role in the evaluation process and, if their grandchild has an IEP, are part of the IEP team. They also have the right to dispute decisions the school might make.
Maybe you’re the guardian of a grandchild who’s moving in with you. If that’s the case, know that if she has to switch school districts, there’s no guarantee her services will automatically transfer. You can check with your local school board to see what you must do to ensure a smooth transition of services.
Financial Stresses Grandparents May Face
Grandparents rarely plan for taking care of their grandchildren. Many end up cutting into their savings and retirement accounts to do so.
Kids with learning and attention issues bring extra financial pressures. They’re more likely to need private tutoring, independent evaluations and behavioral counseling. Health insurance may not cover costs for physical and occupational therapy.
According to the Affordable Care Act, many of these costs are tax deductible. If possible, work with an accountant to make sure you get the deductions and allowances you’re entitled to.
Challenging Behaviors Grandparents May Face
Some learning and attention issues can create difficult behaviors. These include ADHD, sensory processing issues and nonverbal learning disabilities.
But just having learning difficulties can make kids feel frustrated and cause them to act out. Kids with learning and attention issues are also at higher risk for mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
These challenges can be particularly tough for grandparents. Parents might not share information that would make the behavior easier to understand. And grandparents may not see eye-to-eye with parents about how to deal with behavior issues.
Guardian grandparents may see even more behavior issues. Their grandchildren may be coming from a chaotic or unsafe home life. They may feel angry and sad that their parents can’t take care of them. And they face losing routines and rituals they may have had.
Kids with learning and attention issues are generally less equipped to handle these challenges. They may act out more and have meltdowns. They may have more trouble than ever focusing on schoolwork.
The psychologist at the school may be able to help with the transition. He may also have advice about how to help at home.
How Grandparents Can Find Support
Parents of a child with learning and attention issues need support from people who understand. So do grandparents. But it can be especially hard for grandparents to find people to turn to.
It can be difficult to find other grandparents in the same situation to seek advice from or share information with. Friends or other family members may not know much about learning and attention issues. Or they may have misconceptions that keep them from being supportive.
If you’re a grandparent and don’t have a built-in support network, you may need to create one. That can take time and effort, but it’s important. Feeling understood makes it easier to be supportive of your grandchild and her parents. And if you’re in a caregiving role, it can help you stay motivated to tackle daily challenges.
You might be able to find support groups in your area, although they may not be just for grandparents. And our online community is a safe place for you to connect with other grandparents facing similar situations.
If you’re in a guardian role, you can ask the IEP team if there’s a parent support group at school. The team may also be able to introduce you to parents whose child has similar challenges to your grandchild’s.
Try not to worry about the age difference between you and parents. Sharing stories, concerns and advice is common ground enough.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for relief. If you’re the caregiver or guardian, you may find yourself running out of steam periodically. Reach out to other people. Perhaps a friend or older child in the neighborhood can provide homework help. Or maybe another family member can step in one night a week so you can get out.
Kids with learning and attention issues are just as smart as their peers. They just need more support. The more you understand your grandchild’s issues, the better able you’ll be to help her and her parents.
Find out about the supports and services she gets at school. Get tips for boosting her self-esteem. And learn more about common learning and attention issues.