Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Real Doctor Should Confirm Internet Diagnosis

DEAR HARRIETTE: One of my close friends has been taking a lot of online tests for the heck of it. The unusual results have led him to believe he might have Asperger's syndrome or autism. He thinks he has had it all his life. (He is 23 now.)

This came as a surprise to me, since I've known him for almost 10 years. I can see in him some of the characteristics of these two disorders, though I think they are too vague to say for sure.

I think it is great that he is learning about himself, but I think this news could negatively affect him and how he views his past and present life. Even if he does have either disorder, I don't think it is severe enough for him to take medication.

Do you have any advice on how to be there for him during this latest discovery? -- Dealing With Discoveries, Baton Rouge, La.

DEAR DEALING WITH DISCOVERIES: It's great that your friend has been learning about himself. But since he is not a doctor, nor are you, it is time for him to visit a doctor to find out if his suspicions are accurate and, if so, what his next steps should be.

Do not try to judge the evaluations he has made. Instead, suggest he make an appointment with his primary care physician. He should bring all of the data he has compiled with him and ask the doctor for guidance.

Many people who suffer from Asperger's or autism live relatively normal lives -- whatever "normal" means. If your friend has behavioral issues or other concerns he has identified for which he might need support, he should seek help from a professional.

DEAR HARRIETTE: Last year my sister remarried a man who has two kids. She has three kids from her first marriage, and the kids all get along with one another.

The problem is with my sister and her 10-year-old stepdaughter. From observations, I can sense that the daughter thinks my sister is taking away her dad and feels as if my sister is an intruder. My sister is now pregnant, and her stepdaughter has openly threatened to hurt the unborn child. My sister is not reacting in the right way and chooses to be immature about dealing with the problem.

What words of wisdom can I share to give her peace with her stepdaughter? -- Helping Sister, Miami

DEAR HELPING SISTER: It is not unusual for jealousy to raise its head when families blend. That negative energy often grows when a new member of the family is introduced. So this is not necessarily a shock. It is, however, reason for grave concern.

The 10-year-old needs help processing what's about to happen in her family. Recommend to your sister that the family go into counseling. It would be wise for the girl to participate in individual counseling sessions, as well as group sessions with her parents.