• communication;
  • family relationships;
  • grandparents;
  • intellectual disability


Background  Caring for a child with a disability can be a unique and challenging experience, with families often relying on informal networks for support. Often, grandparents are key support resources, yet little is known about their roles and experiences. Reporting on data collected in a larger Australian study, this article explores grandparents' experiences of caring for a child with a disability and the impact on their family relationships and quality of life.

Method  A qualitative purposive sampling design was utilised; semi-structured interviews were conducted with 22 grandparents (17 women, 5 men) of children with a disability. Grandparents ranged in age from 55 to 75 years old and lived within a 90-min drive of Brisbane, Australia. Interviews were transcribed and responses analysed using a thematic approach, identifying categories, themes and patterns.

Findings  Four key themes characterised grandparents' views about their role in the family: holding own emotions (decision to be positive), self-sacrifice (decision to put family needs first), maintaining family relationships (being the ‘go-between’) and quality of life for family in the future (concerns about the future).

Conclusions  Grandparents are central to family functioning and quality of life, but this contribution comes with a significant cost to their own personal well-being. Implications for policy, practice and research are discussed, particularly grandparents' fear that their family could not cope without their support.