Tell Me About It: Should she tell boy's mom he's odd?

Posted: July 02, 2011

Question: I have a good friend whose son is in school with mine. He's a bit odd and sometimes has difficulty dealing socially with the other kids, but has friends. He's very bright but seems to miss some social cues other 8-year-old boys pick up on.

My professional background has given me some exposure to autism/pervasive developmental disorders, but I am no expert. I can't help thinking he's got something along these lines, but I'm not sure if I should say anything.

He's been in school with teachers, school counselors, etc., who have never said anything to her (she's pretty open with her friends about her struggles with his behavior problems). If it's really an issue, then I'm assuming someone would eventually pick up on it, and I don't want to offend her. I'm also not sure that a diagnosis will help the situation anyway, but would like feedback on that.

Answer: Back to front:

A diagnosis would help, yes, and early is better.

Saying something without the expertise to back it up would be inappropriate. Teachers and counselors do miss things sometimes, certainly, but that's a risk the Village has to take when the alternative is for a nonexpert in autism to suggest a friend's child might have autism. It's not that autism is a dirty word, it's that a lay diagnosis among friends is a very tricky thing, to the point where even being right can go wrong.

She is open about her struggles, though, and that's an opportunity for a good friend to float the idea of talking to a child-development expert - a fairly neutral suggestion when you don't specify what condition you suspect (there are so many possibilities, after all). It would be softened even more if you've consulted experts for your own child: "When we had some issues with Spanky, the school/Dr. X was extremely responsive."

(If you know this friend to be defensive/thin-skinned/punitive, then I take this suggestion back - not because of the drama, but because it won't help and might raise her defenses, making it harder if/when the school tries to intervene.)

Finally - there may be nothing particularly alarming about a bright 8-year-old who misses some cues. If he has friends, then he's doing OK, and if being odd were a medical condition, I'd need a specialist myself.

Question: I don't like my brother's girlfriend. But I don't want to come off as annoying when he asks if I like her. She's immature and does drugs (not a hunch - confirmed), and my brother could do so much better. I don't particularly like the person my brother is when he's around her, either - not necessarily a 180, but definitely off. I'm thinking he's probably dabbling into some illicit substances as well.

That being said, I don't want to be a harpy about it. It's his life and his choice and I love him. I am just worried. Is there a way to voice my distaste tastefully?

Answer: You just did: "It's your life and your choice and I love you. I am just worried. You're different around her."


E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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