Dear Annie: I have a 3-year-old grandson with autism who is nonverbal. "JT" makes a lot of noises (i.e., yells) to let us know what he needs.
My daughter, her husband, their kids (they also have an 18-month-old) and my husband were recently at a family-friendly restaurant for lunch. JT was in a really happy mood and making noises to show that. The table next to them asked whether they could quiet him down or remove him from the restaurant. My son-in-law explained that he has autism and there was nothing they could do to quiet him. We always try to engage him and keep him entertained to quiet him, but sometimes he's too happy to quiet down. I know it can be irritating and annoying, but how do we answer these judgmental people? I need an appropriate comeback to let these people know that although they think JT ruined their lunch, they in fact ruined his family's. Families with kids who have special needs deal with a lot. Show some compassion. — Where Is the Love?
Dear Where Is the Love: I wish the people at the next table had been the ones to write me a letter, because they're the ones with the problem. Your family handled the situation just fine.
As for how to respond in the future, the benefit of the doubt is a good place to start. If it seems possible they really don't realize JT has a disability, simply say, as your son-in-law did, "He has autism." You might even try smiling to underscore that there's no problem. If people are just plain being cruel — well, there are no magic words that can transform them into compassionate people. But you can tell them exactly what you told me: Families who have kids with special needs deal with a lot; show some compassion.
If I hear from other families who have struggled with this and come up with good comebacks, I will print them here. In the meantime, to answer the question posed in your signature, the love is clearly in your family, especially JT.
Dear Annie: I have a friend who was in a similar situation to "Refrigerator Robberies." His roommate's brother, "Hank," crashed on their couch for most of a summer. Hank would eat their food and never replace any of it.
My friend fixed that one day when he realized that the large can of dog food was the same size as the "hearty beef stew" can. He switched the labels and put the "stew" back in the cupboard. Later that day, when my friend smelled something strange, he found freeloading Hank heating up the "stew." "This smells a little funny," Hank said. My friend replied, "No, that smells fine. That's really good stew." I believe that solved the problem. — Pete in Cape Cod
Dear Pete: If there's one thing this job has taught me, it's that people get pretty resourceful with their revenge. I suppose all is fair in love and fridge wars.
"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]