Dear Ann:

I respectfully disagree with your advice to the neighbor in Dyer, Tenn., who was "annoyed" by the mentally challenged child. She said the 12-year-old girl was constantly in their yard, knocking on the door and peeking in their windows. You said this was a good opportunity to teach her grandchildren kindness and compassion.

Ann, mentally handicapped children can be taught acceptable behavior, and do not have to make pests of themselves. The child's mother has an obligation to the youngster, and to the neighbors, to teach the girl right from wrong. The neighbors should not have to live with someone looking through their windows every day.

I do agree with you that children can learn about compassion from situations such as this. However, the rights of others must also be considered. The neighbor could include the girl on occasion, and when it is convenient, if she wants to teach her own children tolerance and acceptance. It would be an act of kindness to give that mother a much-needed break. Lord knows she needs it.

You completely overlooked this point: A mentally handicapped child should never be permitted to roam around unsupervised. There is the ever-present possibility that she could be the victim of a sexual predator. What are the chances that this child's mother knows all the neighbors and their family backgrounds? Some of them may have criminal records. Please reconsider, Ann.

-- I.H., Houston

You have made some excellent points, for which I thank you. I must have been bat blind not to have seen the possibility of a child molester taking advantage of that little girl. Keep reading for more on this subject.

From Cookeville, Tenn.: I would like to make a suggestion that might help "Distressed in Dyer, Tenn.," who was annoyed by the mentally handicapped child's constant presence. The family could invite the child over to play for a specified amount of time -- say 15 minutes -- and then, have one of the older children, or perhaps a parent, return the child to her home, express appreciation to her mother, and say, "We'll do it again some time." This should let the mother know that while her child is acceptable as a guest, she needs to be invited.

Sacramento, Calif.: Where do you get off telling "Distressed in Dyer" she is wrong for not opening her arms to the mentally disabled 12-year-old who lives across the street from their vacation home? Lessons in kindness and compassion are fine, but they should not consume every waking minute of one's vacation. Also, what are the legal ramifications? Regardless of her mental disability, the girl is trespassing on private property. If she were to be injured, they would be held liable. If that mother continues to do nothing to curb her child's roaming, she is negligent, and "Distressed" should call Child Protective Services. Taking advantage of opportunities to teach the importance of being kind and compassionate is commendable, but they must not overrule common sense.

Eugene, Ore.: I am the mother of "a nuisance." My son is 14 and has autism and other disabilities. It is 8:30 a.m., and he has asked me seven times if he can go across the street and visit the neighbors. Please, Ann, don't tell anyone to send me suggestions on how to manage this child's behavior. My husband and I work on that constantly, and it's the most challenging part of our lives. We have attended many seminars and workshops, read dozens of books, and so on. When our son was in second grade, his teacher said to me, "Your son has problems, but his eyes sparkle." I still feel uplifted when I recall those words. Her kindness will never be forgotten.

(C) 1999, Creators Syndicate Inc.

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