Help! How do I care for my neurodiverse grandchild?

grandfather and grandson holding their string instruments
By Psychologist Emily Coen

Grandparents play such an important role within the family unit. They also have so much to teach children from their incredible life experience! Many grandparents often want to connect with their grandchild, but are unsure what to do, or say. Here are some tips to support you:

General Strategies: 

  • Have a general understanding of their diagnosis and how it relates to the child. Ask the child’s parents to relay important information about the diagnosis to you. What do you need to know about the child and how they engage with the world? 
  • Encourage independence. Children quickly learn who will do things for them and therefore won’t do these things. The more a child can be independent (within reasonable expectations of age and ability) the more they will thrive as they become older. 
  • Let your grandchild lead and teach you things. Take an interest in your grandchild’s game or current interest and follow their lead in play.


  • Our neurodiverse kiddos often take longer to process information, so give them 10 seconds after you speak to process the information and respond. 
  • Use brief and concrete instructions rather than lengthy sentences with too many words.
  • If your grandchild requires an additional means to communicate such as visual or sign language, use that! This will assist them to understand what you are saying.
  • Offering a choice of two options rather than picking anything you like. Choosing from a small amount of items helps to reduce feelings of confusion, overwhelm and stress of making the wrong choice. 


  • Children will use adults around them to help regulate themselves. When a child is upset or angry, yelling at them will also escalate their behaviour. Use a calm but firm tone with your grandchild so they can understand the situation and respond appropriately. 
  • Identify their triggers to emotional outbursts or coping mechanisms and help the child to regulate themselves. Engage in some sensory games or relaxation techniques to assist with calming your grandchild.
  • Have clear and consistent expectations and boundaries when it comes to behaviours. Set expectations so the child knows what to expect and what is not ok in your home. 

Most importantly, focus on your grandchild as the unique person that they are, not their diagnosis. Show the child love and affection as you would with any of your grandchildren. And above all, have fun together!

Emily is a registered psychologist with a Master of Professional Psychology. Emily has experience working with children, adolescents and their families across home, clinic, and educational settings. Emily has a special interest in working with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disorders, anxiety, behaviour management, and emotion regulation difficulties. Emily is passionate about working with children and their families in a flexible and creative manner, to best support their goals. Outside of work, Emily enjoys spending time with her family, reading a good book, playing netball, and cheering on the Geelong Cats.

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