Tips for Grandparents: How to have the best time with your grandchild on the autism spectrum

August 27, 2020

Whether you are spending time with your grandchildren, helping over the summer vacation or a holiday, or perhaps you provide regular care, you might wonder if you are doing things right. Especially if one of those grandchildren is diagnosed with Autism.

Maggie Imlay

AnswersNow BCBA

Whether you are spending time with your grandchildren, helping over the summer vacation or a holiday, or perhaps you provide regular care, you might wonder if you are doing things right. Especially if one of those grandchildren is diagnosed with Autism.

It can be tempting to spoil your grandchildren, especially if you don’t see them often. Many grandparents want to shower their grandchildren with treats, new toys, and free playtime without rules or expectations. While this might be tempting, it really isn’t beneficial as children with autism typically thrive with structure and predictability. Here are some tips on how to make time spent with your grandchildren a pleasant and healthy experience for everyone. 

Communication with parents is essential! Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how parents are structuring routines, setting expectations, and responding to challenging behavior at home. It would be helpful to have similar expectations in your home and respond to challenging behavior in the same way. Sometimes the expectations at grandma and grandpa’s house are a little different than home - that’s ok, but make sure you are clear about what is expected in your home and what children can earn by choosing to follow the rules. It is very important that once you have set these expectations you are consistent and follow through. 

Another great tool to have in your back pocket is the Premack Principle, or “Grandma’s Rule.” We all know this one: “no dessert unless you finish your dinner.” It might sound too easy, but it really works. Children are more likely to do the less preferred thing you are asking of them if they have access to a highly preferred item/activity once it is complete. Here are some examples of putting this strategy to use:

  • First you need to clean-up all the toys, then we can go outside to play.
  • First you need to get dressed, then we can watch cartoons.
  • Once we have finished all our lunch, we can go to the park.
  • After you take a shower, you can play 15 minutes of video games. 

When your grandchildren are visiting try to catch them being good and provide specific verbal praise. Pay attention to the behaviors you want to see and ignore the ones you don’t. This is a great strategy to increase positive behavior.  Your attention is the most powerful reinforcer you have readily available, so use it wisely!  

No matter the length of the visit it will be helpful to have a plan or schedule for the day. There are lots of ways to have fun with your grandkids without giving them unhealthy treats or spending a lot of money. Here are some fun activity ideas for all ages. 

Activity Ideas for Younger Children: 

  • Scavenger Hunt – The possibilities are endless, and this activity can be done indoors or outdoors.  
  • Obstacle course – This is another great activity that can be done inside or out. 
  • Hopscotch – This is a classic. This can be set up inside using painter’s tape or outside with sidewalk chalk.  
  • The Wiggle Jar – Write down different physical movements/activities on pieces of paper (e.g. hop like a bunny, jump like a frog 10 times, crab walk across the room) and put them in a jar. Children and grandparents can take turns drawing out of the jar. Free Printable:
  • Balloon games - There are numerous balloon games that are fun and engaging.  
  • Blow up a balloon and work together to see how long you can keep in the air. 
  • Penguin paddle – Place a balloon between your knees and hold it there while you waddle across the room. Make this even more challenging by adding an obstacle course. 
  • Balloon Ping-Pong – Use Ping-Pong paddles to for a new twist on the game.
  • Have talent show – This is even more fun if grandparents participate. 

Activity Ideas for Tweens and Teens:

  • A lie and two truths – This is a fun game to play with older children. Everyone writes down one lie and two truths about themselves. Each player shares their statements and the other players vote on which one is the lie. 
  • Listen to a podcast together- There are many great podcasts geared towards children and teens. Listening to a podcast is a nice break from watching TV or playing video games.  
  • Cook dinner – Depending on your grandchild’s needs this may be something you do together, or your grandchild can create the menu and cook dinner for you.  
  • Volunteering – This can be a great opportunity to create special memories and give back to the community. 
  • Look through family photo albums – You might consider drawing a family tree while doing so. This is a great opportunity to share memories and family history.  

Our BCBAs are always available if you want to talk about strategies specifically for your child/grandchild. Learn more on

Maggie I.

AnswersNow BCBA

Specializes in:

Verbal behavior, severe problem behavior (aggression, self-injurious behavior, property destruction), functional communication, functional/adaptive life skills

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