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.
DEAR ABBY: My son and daughter-in-law recently had a baby girl. My daughter-in-law and her family have extreme OCD and are afraid of germs. I wash my hands all the time, but still she seems to cringe when I or anyone in my family holds the baby.
I want a relationship with my granddaughter. I have expressed my concern to my son, but I don't want to cause an argument. How can I approach this without causing friction? -- GRANDMA S. IN NEW YORK
DEAR GRANDMA S.: Your daughter-in-law is a brand-new mother. Many new parents are nervous about their babies being exposed to germs.
A way to approach it would be to talk with your daughter-in-law in a non-confrontational way and tell her you have seen her reaction when you hold your granddaughter. Explain that you are careful about hand-washing, and ask if there is anything else she feels you should do. It might make her feel more in control and put her mind at ease.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.
What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $7 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)
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