Having a grandchild on the autism spectrum

Irene: Interview 02

Age at interview: 61

Brief outline: Irene's two grandchildren, aged 7 and 12, have been diagnosed with autism and Asperger syndrome respectively.

Background: Irene lives with her husband. They have three children and two grandchildren. She is a retired teacher. Ethnicity/nationality: White British.

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Irene has “been very involved” in her grandsons’ lives and has been helping to look after them since the older boy was five and the younger was six months. When her younger grandson was diagnosed with autism, his mother, Irene’s daughter, gave up work and became a stay-at-home mum. Initially, this meant that Irene did not get to spend as much time with him as she had done previously. She found this was especially difficult as felt she was “grieving” for her grandson at the same time. Since then she has resumed her caring role as she looks after her grandson in the holidays and inset days.
Irene thinks that grandparents of children with autism spectrum conditions have to “try and see the world through their eyes and find out what is difficult for them”, especially if they have problems expressing themselves verbally. The time she spends with her grandsons has to be “well planned and thought out”; they cannot do things spontaneously. She feels sad for her daughter and son-in-law because they cannot do things together as a family as it is difficult to find activities that both boys will enjoy doing.
Irene found that the most helpful sources of information about autism and Asperger syndrome came from books written by high functioning autistic people. She describes her experience of being a grandparent as a “privilege” and feels that her experiences of being with her grandsons have allowed her to look at things “in a completely new way”.


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