If we can find a way to better include them to support their grandchildren, it can change family dynamics and take some of the stress away from the entire family.

Xueyan Yang

A new study being conducted at the University of Washington's Haring Center for Research and Training in Inclusive Education is examining the relationships between children with special needs and their grandparents—and how to enhance those relations. Xueyan Yang, a doctoral student is special education at the UW College of Education, is using photographs as a social aid to strength the bonds between generations.

“Photos help grandparents talk about family history and pass on traditions,” said Yang. “I’m exploring whether they can be used to help facilitate interactions between grandchildren with special needs and their grandparents.”

The study stems from Yang’s previous work as a master’s student at the College of Education, where she interviewed grandparents from eight families of children with special needs. She found that the grandparents she interviewed had difficulty providing care for their grandchildren for various reasons, such as not knowing how best to provide support when their grandchild had unique learning needs and having a difficult time connecting.

With the rapid developments in intervention strategies, parents of children with special needs often struggle to stay current with changing best practices, even with support from school teams—for grandparents, who have far less access to the professionals working with their grandchild, it can feel impossible to keep up with new developments in practice.

“Grandparents are a group of people in families with children with special needs that do not have access to the same kind of structures or programs as siblings or parents,” Yang said. “And if we can find a way to better include them to support their grandchildren, it can change family dynamics and take some of the stress away from the entire family.”

Yang said to conduct her study, she will present children with special needs and their grandparents with a variety of photographs that will allow grandparents a chance to tell stories and share history with their grandchildren, but with targeted support to help facilitate these important interactions.

Originally from Singapore, Yang said she was surprised about the lack of support for grandparents of children with children with special needs in the United States. Coming from a country where the special education support is still in its infancy, she said seeing a deficiency in support for such an important group in families was glaring.

In addition to this study, Yang is participating in the development and facilitation of a grandparent workshop this spring with The Arc of King County that will help provide informational and emotional support, as well as share different perspectives with the aim of helping grandparents contribute to the wellbeing of all their grandchildren, regardless of their needs.

For more information about Yang’s study, or if you are a grandparent of a child with special needs and would like to participate, email Yang.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications
206-543-1035, dwunder@uw.edu