Grandparents of Children with Disabilities

Posted in Disability  |  Tagged

by Allie Augur, Emma Bebarta, Ally Archer, Claire Tebbutt, Cassidy Wiley, Michael Parker

Yang and colleagues studied the psychological impact on grandparents of children with disabilities (CWD). They found that grandparents faced multiple difficulties navigating their role in caregiving. We ascertain that if grandparents were able to transition smoothly to their new  role, families with CWD would be better equipped to raise their disabled and nondisabled children. Grandparents are a triple threat, as they have the power to develop meaningful and long lasting relationships with the new parents, their grandchildren with a disability, and their grandchildren without a disability. Grandparents will better understand their role in caregiving and have a greater impact on the family dynamic if they understand how powerful their relationship can be.

The grandparent-parent relationship is arguably one of the most important relationships that aid in the success of a family. In Laureen Coutts-Clarke’s dissertation, she highlighted Sandler, Warren, and Raver’s 1995 study that demonstrated a positive correlation between grandparents’ support and parental adjustment to the role of parenting. Grandparents are able to support and nurture parents, aiding in their confidence to face the challenges that come along with raising a CWD. Grandparents can begin to navigate their new role through emotional means. This includes providing strategies to alleviate stress, advice about raising children, and being by the parents’ side through all the emotions they may face.

The relationship between the grandparents and a CWD is crucial for the child’s development and success. Grandparents are known to provide feelings of safety, security, and love to their grandchildren (Lee & Gardner, 2010). Grandparents of CWD assume an extended role while developing a relationship with the CWD. Grandparents act as additional advocates for the child and are often the child’s caregiver while the parents are working. In addition to helping the parents this provides the grandparents with an opportunity to develop a closer relationship and foster the child’s  social and emotional development. 

The role of grandparents in the lives of their grandchildren who do not have a disability but have a sibling with a disability is also critically important. Because siblings with disabilities often require more attention, care, and support, their nondisabled siblings can feel left out. The grandparents may be in a position to provide support and extra care to these siblings, while allowing the parents to support the child with a disability. Support can take many forms, such as financial support, emotional support, or aiding in co-parenting (Yang, Artman-Meeker, & Roberts, 2018).

Overall, grandparents play an important role in the family that has a CWD. They have the ability to lend support to parents while they navigate how to best care for their CWD, act as advocates and role models to the CWD, and emotionally support the siblings of CWD. However, it is also crucial to recognize that grandparents may experience role strain while attempting to help the family. It is important that grandparents set boundaries and put their physical and mental health first so they can provide their children and grandchildren with the best care and support possible.


Coutts-Clarke, L. (2002). Grandparent Support and the Family With a Child With a Disability. Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 497.

Lee, M., & Gardner, J. E. (2010). Grandparents’ Involvement and Support in Families with Children with Disabilities. Educational Gerontology, 36(6), 467–499. doi:10.1080/03601270903212419

Yang, X., Artman-Meeker, K., & Roberts, C. A. (2018). Grandparents of Children With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: Navigating Roles and Relationships. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 56(5), 354-373,390,392.