Winter 2012
In This Issue
GAN's Mission
A Grandparent Guide for Happy Holidays
Toys for Grandchildren
Make a Difference in 2013

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GAN members are a vital resource for autism 

... and each other!


The Grandparent Autism Network is an all-volunteer, national nonprofit organization that supports grandparents of children with autism and their families.  GAN's mission is to promote awareness and understanding of autism and to enhance the resources essential to community responsiveness.  


Current projects focus on the development of lifetime supports for people with autism.  In collaboration with other agencies, GAN increases access to information about autism programs and services.


Newsletters address issues that impact grandparents and suggest how to increase autism support and resources in other communities. All of GAN's programs and projects can be replicated, however, GAN's name and logo are trademarked and may not be used without permission.


We know that the best information comes from grandparents and we welcome your feedback and suggestions about how we can increase support for you and your family.

 A Grandparent Guide 
for Happy Holidays

Dr. Erica R. Holding has a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral level and founder of Avita Nova, which provides early diagnosis and ABA therapy for children and parent training and support. This article is based on her many years of working with families affected by autism.


When you have a grandchild with autism, the holiday season can present some extra challenges for your family. With careful planning your family can make the holiday season warm and happy for everyone.

If you don't get to see your grandchild regularly, it is important to remember to have realistic expectations for your time together. Before the visit, call your son or daughter to ask if there is anything to do or have on hand to make the visit more enjoyable for your grandchild. You can have favorite toys, food and videos ready and plan to go to places that they like to visit.

Grandparents often express fear and anxiety about how to interact with their grandchildren.  You may feel rejected because you expect welcoming big hugs and kisses and may feel frustrated and unloved if that does not happen. Your grandchild may have sensory issues that make it overwhelming and even painful for them to be touched or hugged. They may not have the skills yet to know what to do or how to respond or they may just be learning these skills, but shut down around new people or in new situations. The most important thing is to not take this personally. They are not rejecting you. A high five or brief gaze may be all that they are currently capable of doing.


If you are planning a party or other special event, ask your son or daughter if they feel your grandchild will be comfortable being present. You may want to change your plan to be more inclusive and focus on creating new holiday traditions together.
Keep demands for social politeness at a low level.  Even if your grandchild has learned new social skills like greeting people by saying hello or shaking hands, don't anticipate that will happen when there is a lot of stimuli like lights, music and new people in new settings. 
Pace yourself and be flexible.  If you have 3 events planned for a day, but there is a midday meltdown after event # 1, maybe it's best to skip the others. It is better to have one great time together that you can all remember fondly than to watch the rest of the day deteriorate into tantrums or other behavior problems. New situations, new people, and new schedules can be overwhelming for a child with autism. Your grandchild is not being willfully defiant or difficult, and your son or daughter does not have poor parenting skills. Too much input and too many changes can be very hard for children with autism to process. Let your son or daughter know that you understand this may be what is responsible for meltdowns and negative behavior.

Create outlets or escape routes.  Prepare a place in your home that is quieter and provides a comfortable spot where you grandchild can "take a break" from all of the excitement.  Having a place to go for some respite time may prevent you from having to leave or end an event. Just taking a break may be all that your grandchild needs to get on to the next event.


Manage sensory input.  The holiday season is filled with new experiences. Manage these to the best of your ability. If you are taking a trip to the mall, try to go at times when the mall is less busy, or make the trip shorter. The holidays might not be the best time to try new foods. Try to have something your grandchild likes at every meal.


Control Schedules.  Routines and knowing what is happening next is often very important to individuals on the spectrum. Holiday schedules deviate completely from our daily normal routines and this can be especially difficult for a child with autism.  Ask your son or daughter how best to handle daily schedules. Some children with autism can be included in the schedule making and this is very empowering for them. Other children may be more able to understand when given a visual schedule. Find out what works best and if an unexpected change is just about to happen, find out how best to communicate that change.


Be sure to compliment your grandchild and your son 

or daughter about the new abilities and progress your grandchild has achieved.  Grandparents can be supportive good listeners who consistently give their families loving reinforcement at the holidays - and throughout the year. 


    For additional holiday tips, click here to visit the GAN website.

      Websites for Special Needs Toys      


Laura Simmons-Martinez, Technology Project Director for Team of Advocates for Special Kids (TASK) has provided these helpful links (underlined below) to websites for toys for our grandchildren.

  • TOYS R US Guide for Differently Abled Kids features over 95 toys and play products, this guide is a valuable resource for parents, grandparents, care providers, friends and family of children with special needs by helping you select an appropriate toy for a child with special needs.  The National Lekotek Center works with ToysRUs each year to evaluate hundreds of toys for inclusion in this catalog. The result is an informative, well thought out guide that is a huge help in deciding what toys will help build needed skills. The Guide is now available online in English and Spanish. 
  • AblePlay evaluates toys and their appropriateness within four disability categories -- physical, communicative, sensory and cognitive, taking the guesswork out of toy shopping for children with special needs. Search the AblePlay database of independently evaluated toys for children with special needs.
  • Ability Station provides special toys for many different special needs and skill sets. All toys are therapist approved for a child's growth, development and fun.
  •  eSpecial Needs offers a variety of appealing play toys such as oversized building blocks, bungee jumpers and sand and water activity tables. 
  • Fun and Function designs sensory toys and therapy equipment to help children learn adaptive responses for what they may lack or crave.  
  • Playability Toys develops toys for children on the autism spectrum and individuals who have visual, hearing. cognitive or other physical challenges. 
  • Special Needs Toys  has a wide range of mobile multi-sensory toys such as swings, trampolines and sensory integration kits
  Resolve to Make a Difference in 2013


It is estimated that 90 percent of all autism resources today are designated for children under 10 years old.  Lifetime supports are lacking or insufficient nation-wide to meet the emerging needs for teens and adults with autism.  Grandparents can be instrumental in developing critically needed resources.  Here are some of the ways you can help:


New Training & Employment Opportunities


Are you an employee or owner of a company that can open positions for people with developmental disabilities?  Can you approach former or current business associates or friends to request they make new jobs available?  


Do any of your local elected officials or government offices have people with special needs on their staff?  If not, request that they do.


Patronize and thank owners and managers of companies and stores that hire people with disabilities.  Letters to corporations acknowledging your appreciation for their support will encourage their efforts.  Ask at competitive businesses if they can provide new training or work opportunities.


Can you identify prospective jobs in schools, hospitals, hotels, banks, sports venues, fitness centers, service agencies or volunteer organizations you support?  Inquire if there are positions available.


Partner with a local agency that finds work for people with disabilities. Help them to locate and contact prospective employers for training and hiring opportunities.  If you know about a job or training opportunity for a teen, share the information with a Transitions Specialist in your local high school district.


Developing and Sustaining New Housing Options


Are any housing developments for adults with autism available or underway in your community?  If so, inquire about how you can support and encourage more to be available.  If not, ask how you can advocate for new housing.


Do you want to donate a home or to set up a special needs trust for your grandchild from the proceeds of the sale of your home?  Consult an attorney who has expertise in special needs trusts to ensure that you will not disqualify your grandchild from receiving governmental benefits.


Request that your church, synagogue or service organization participate in sustaining local housing for people with special needs. Volunteers can improve the quality of life significantly for the residents by increasing social and recreational opportunities and by helping to improve or update the property.

The board of directors of the Grandparent Autism Network and I send you best wishes for happy holidays and good health and contentment in the New Year.

 Warm regards,
Bonnie Gillman
Executive Director
Grandparent Autism Network