Grandparents learning new skills as they care for their grandchildren on autism spectrum

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla - "Why aren't they jumping out of the water," little J.R. Vannatta asks his grandparents as he pours water on some bugs in the yard of their Palm Beach Gardens home.

Linda and Bob Vannatta thought they'd be  babysitting at this stage of the lives, but they didn't picture a grandchild on the autism spectrum.

"It's difficult because you want to make it right," said Linda.

Like many grandparents they didn't know about autism when raising their children, and knew  little when their grandson was diagnosed with it.

"I mean really, next to nothing," said Linda.

When J.R. was two,  doctors made the diagnosis, and everything changed for them.

"It's kind of heartbreaking for your children, but at that point I had no idea how difficult it would be," said Linda. 

J.R. is now nine years old, and he'll often spend a day with his grandparents.   They say they've had to develop more patience with him than when caring for their other grandchildren.

"Your other kids, you can say something to them and they respond. He obviously doesn't even realize you're talking to him," said Linda.

Little did they know that after becoming grandparents they would have to learn a new set of skills and change the way they look at life.

"You have to be willing to jump into it and I think a lot of people are frightened by it," she said.

Now as grandparents they're becoming experts on something they didn't know anything about for most of their lives.

"It's difficult, everyday is difficult because you don't know what the response is going to be," said Linda.
Challenges, yes, but also pride in J.R.'s accomplishments.

"I think he loves to come to our house, that's been a great joy for us," said Linda.