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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am 48 and disabled. I have never had a birthday party, received a Christmas present, or attended a family wedding or funeral. Years ago, I overheard my brother tell someone he had only three brothers and sisters. I am the fourth. It hurts to this day.

Each year, "in the spirit of Christmas," my family picks me up to spend Christmas Day with them. However, no one talks to me -- not even to wish me a "Merry Christmas." My nephews and nieces hold up their children from across the room to stare at me. I feel like I'm in a zoo. When I write to them, my letters are returned.

I was told that some babies die at birth. For some reason I lived -- but this isn't living. How can I make my family realize that I exist? -- THE INVISIBLE CHILD

DEAR INVISIBLE CHILD: I'm sorry you don't have the loving, supportive family that you deserve. Rather than trying to "make" your family realize that you are a human being with needs not unlike their own -- look around you. You are probably already a member of a "family" -- those people with whom you live, work and worship and who care about you. More of your needs can be met by concentrating on your relationships with them. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I work in a state health care facility for the disabled. Some are unable to do much for themselves. Others have excellent personal and social skills. Many of them have no family contact.

Years ago, parents were encouraged to put children with developmental disabilities into an institution and forget about them. I understand why some parents may feel guilty, wondering if they are to blame for the child's condition. What I can't understand is how parents and family can turn their backs on a child. We all need someone to love and care for us.

Abby, please urge your readers to reach out to a family member who is in an institution or group setting. Yes, they are being fed, housed and clothed, but they also need contact with family and friends. If it's not possible to visit, send a letter or card and include a dollar bill -- especially on birthdays and holidays. Check on the visiting hours, talk with staff members to see what interests, activities or hobbies the resident may have. Ask if he or she would enjoy going out to lunch or to a shopping mall or G-rated movie. Please don't feel guilty if you haven't made contact. Now is the time to reach out before it's too late.

We work hard to keep our residents happy, but they need warm and loving relationships with their families, too. -- I CARE IN ORAN, MO.

DEAR I CARE: You are a compassionate caregiver, and you are absolutely right -- everyone needs to know he or she is loved every day of the year.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600