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Publication: Dear Abby
Dad Keeps Duaghter's Autism A Secret From His Parents

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          DEAR ABBY - June 9, 2008 
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ABBY: I have a beautiful 3-year-old niece I'll call
"Serena." She is my brother "Simon's" daughter. Serena is 
mildly autistic but has made amazing progress. We're 
optimistic that she'll be indistinguishable in a few years.

The problem is, Simon is adamant that he does not want our 
parents to know about Serena's condition. Mom and Dad are
good people, but lousy grandparents. Simon thinks they 
would be judgmental toward him and would gossip about 
matters he would prefer be kept private. He might be right. 
But because he is keeping them in the dark, his relationship 
with them has deteriorated. Our parents haven't seen Serena 
since she was a baby.

Simon has threatened that if I tell our parents about 
Serena's autism, he will never speak to me again. That 
would cost me a relationship not only with him, but also 
with my niece. I have encouraged him to come clean, but he 

What should I do? Should I stay out of it, or intervene? 
And is this kind of situation typical with families who 
have children with special needs? 

UNCLE: When a family member is diagnosed with a mental 
health disorder, some families consider it to be something 
shameful, and "circle the wagons" to hide it. While it is 
regrettable, this is the path your brother has chosen. Not 
knowing your parents' level of sophistication, I'm guessing 
he may be right about them and that he prefers to allow 
them into his daughter's life only after her problem has 
become "indistinguishable in a few years" -- if ever.

If you value your relationship with Simon, do not reveal 
his secret. Obviously he trusts you, or he wouldn't have 
taken you into his confidence. If you betray him, your 
relationship will never be the same.


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ABBY: I come from a dysfunctional family. I was never 
close to my brothers and sister. About 10 years ago, I
became friends with a gentleman I'll call "Eric." Our 
relationship is platonic -- we're like siblings. We 
"talk" almost every day by e-mail because he now lives 
out of state.

When I mention to my other friends that I have a male 
friend, I get a funny look because they assume Eric and I 
are having some kind of affair. They say men and women 
can't be friends without something sexual going on between 
them. When I tell them this isn't the case, they don't buy 
it. What can I say or do to get them to believe me? 

TELLING THE TRUTH: Nothing. So stop arguing. When someone 
tells you that men and women can't be friends without 
something sexual going on, that person is telling you 
something about him- or herself. Obviously, as you already 
know, there are no hard-and-fast rules governing friendship. 
Sometimes people have "good chemistry" and click -- and 
this happens with same-sex friendships as well as those 
with the opposite sex.

ABBY: Is it ever appropriate for a grandmother to expect 
payment to baby-sit her grandchildren? 

TRYING: It depends upon the situation and how much time 
Grandma is devoting to taking care of the children. If the 
grandmother needs the money, and the amount of time she's 
tending to the children interferes with her ability to earn 
a living and provide for her retirement, then by all means 
she should be paid -- and at least minimum wage.

ABBY is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as 
Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline 
Phillips. Write ABBY at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box  
69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069. 

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