DEAR ABBY: I am a 12-year-old girl and have a 10-year-old brother with autism. At school there are many kids who have special needs, and I try my best to befriend them.
A large number of students are unbelievably cruel to these people. They call them names and make fun of them right to their faces. Sometimes they don't do it in front of the person, but I also think it is very rude to talk about people behind their backs.
When I see or hear it happen, I would like to be able to say something to help them understand that what they are doing is not acceptable. What should I do when I am caught in these situations? -- TRYING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OHIO
DEAR TRYING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE: People who ridicule others because they are physically or developmentally disabled sometimes do it for attention because it makes them feel superior or because they don't realize the damage they are doing.
One way to correct the perpetrators would be to speak up and say you don't think what they are doing is funny because you have a brother who struggles every day with the challenges of autism. You should also talk to a counselor or the principal of your school, describe what has been happening and suggest that the student body could benefit from sensitivity training regarding discrimination, which is offered at many schools.
DEAR ABBY: My sister-in-law was unhappy in her relationship, so my husband and I offered to let her stay with us. We moved her and all her stuff into our home. We even kicked our 3-year-old out of his room so she could have privacy.
She stayed with us for two nights, then went to her mother's. She was gone a week, then came back and spent one night. Then she returned to her mom's for two weeks. Most of her things are still here, but she hasn't said she's living with her mother permanently.
Do I still have a houseguest? I'd like to give my son his room back, but I don't want to be rude to my possible guest. -- POSSIBLE HOSTESS
DEAR POSSIBLE HOSTESS: Your little boy needs his room back! Unless you are ready to establish some boundaries, your sister-in-law could bounce back and forth indefinitely. It's time for you and your husband to talk to his sister and his mother and determine where his sister plans to nest, because it is unfair to use your son's bedroom as a storage locker.
DEAR ABBY: Several months ago, my husband -- whose eyesight is fading rapidly -- was forced to depend on a cane indicating that he is blind. Since then, we have encountered many individuals who have no idea what a red-tipped white cane means.
We have heard people say things like, "Isn't that fancy!" or, "I love the way you decorated your cane for the Christmas season."
Abby, please inform your readers that a white cane with a red tip is not a fashion accessory or a personal whim. Its purpose is to allow a vision-impaired person to move around independently. Vision impairment also affects a person's balance. People have brushed past my husband, bumped into him and expressed annoyance because his slowness held them up.
I'm sure a "word to the wise" from you would make a decided difference. -- NANCY IN LACONIA, N.H.
DEAR NANCY: I'm pleased to help you spread the word, and you have described the situation very well. Allow me to add this: It's rude -- and can be dangerous -- to touch a stranger without permission. Not only could it cause the person to react in a hostile fashion, if he or she is blind, it could cause a nasty fall.
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