DEAR HARRIETTE: I visited my friend's home today. We went out to eat with her family. My friend has a sister, Beth, who has Tourette's and mental disabilities. Beth's tics are frequent, and I noticed people looking over at us as she had them. This was my first experience being stared at in a restaurant, and I felt so sympathetic to my friend's family, who has learned to ignore the stares. During the meal, someone came up and asked what Beth was doing. I was astonished by how brazen this was. The mother politely explained that Beth has uncontrollable tics. I always assumed it would never be the family's responsibility to explain a disability to a nosey stranger. Should the mother have told the stranger to get away from our table? -- None of Their Business, Jackson, Mississippi
DEAR NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS: Observing your friend's mother was wise of you. This family has had to learn how to navigate their everyday life with a child who has noticeable disabilities. The mom has an appropriate amount of compassion for others who notice her daughter's tics and are curious. Rather than being offended, she takes the position that she must educate others. This is probably the easiest way to manage. Your friend's mom knows that unless you have witnessed or had to deal with someone with such a disorder, you likely have no idea what it is or how to behave when you see it happening.
This doesn't mean that people in a restaurant or other establishment should feel they have the right to ask what's wrong with a person in your party. People should mind their business. But if someone approaches respectfully, giving context to the disabled person's condition may be the easiest way to end the engagement.