DEAR ABBY: Schoolchildren, especially middle school or high school students who may not be socially adept, often eat lunch alone because they don't know what to do when it comes to joining other kids at the lunch table. My grandson, who is on the autism spectrum, is one of them.
Classmates would be doing a great service if they said, "Hey, 'Josh.' Come sit with me." It's a small way to help others, and they could serve as examples/mentors. Kids with autism or some other challenges can learn socialization from helpful peers who are good in this arena.
It's lonely to eat lunch by yourself. Please encourage your readers to consider this. -- SOMEONE WHO CARES IN SAN DIEGO
DEAR SOMEONE WHO CARES: I'm glad to do that. The pain of social isolation can last far beyond the elementary and middle school years and color a person's expectations of rejection into adulthood. Much of it could be avoided if parents took the time to explain to their children how important it is to treat others with kindness.
In recent years, attention is finally being paid to this. A national organization, Beyond Differences, started a program called "No One Eats Alone" that teaches students how to make friends at lunchtime -- which can be the most painful part of the school day. It's their most popular program, and schools in all 50 states participate. For more information about the work they do, visit www.beyonddifferences.org.
It might be helpful if an adult family member discussed your grandson's isolation with a counselor at his school. Some schools have started programs in which children who sit alone are gathered together at lunchtime with a teacher or a school therapist so they are not isolated. This creates a safe space for autistic children. Regardless of how these lunches are organized, the presence of a trained adult is paramount.