Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Grandparent Autism Network of Orange County, California

One thing I have learned from experience and from networking with other parents of kids with autism spectrum disorders is that grandparents have the potential to be difference makers. Grandparents can serve as a sounding board for the myriad decisions we have to make about our children. They can provide both all kinds of support—emotional, respite, you name it (assuming they are in a position to help).

That's why it's so encouraging to report on the growth of the Grandparent Autism Network of Orange County, based in Tustin, California. Bonnie Gillman, founder and president of the Grandparent Autism Network, said she believes the group is the only nonprofit support group set up exclusively for grandparents in the United States. Its members include more than 500 grandparents in 34 cities in Orange County in southern California, and its website,, has people all over the world seeking information from it.

Here is a list of pilot projects, which Gillman notes welcomes the participation of all adults, whether they are grandparents or not, and which her California group hopes can be replicated by others in other locations:

The Special Needs Acceptance Book Project will increase awareness and peer support for children with special needs to prevent bullying. This book and accompanying Teachers' Guides for K-6 grade classrooms and Christian and Jewish settings will be introduced to elementary schools, youth groups, churches, synagogues and libraries in the 34 cities of Orange County. Interactive educational and character building activities help children to understand more than 20 different developmental disabilities. The project teaches that everyone is special and everyone deserves to be understood and accepted.

A Job Opportunities Committee will assist job vendors contracted by the Regional Center of Orange County to identify prospective employers for people with special needs. There are several ways volunteers can help to develop a broad range of new work opportunities. The Orange County group plans to share information about this initiative at a statewide meeting in February 2009.

Two informational videos designed to broaden awareness: "The Impact of Autism on Intergenerational Relationships" and "Autism Research: Fact and Fiction."

We have seen a growth in awareness in the United States in the past few years about the need for autism awareness and support of people with autism spectrum disorders. The establishment of an organization like the Grandparent Autism Network is a reminder to parents who may feel they are stuck in the midst of IEP negotiations, or coping with daily living challenges and trying to help their children, that we are not alone.