Twice in one day! Can you handle it?

Two POSTS in one day, of course, get your collective minds out of the gutter. I did something today that I have never done before in all of my 36 years. I wrote to Dear Abby. Now before you let your imagination run away with you and decide that I must have written to ask her advice on how to best get a handle on my growing obsession with bald, toothless midgets before it spirals out of control, rest assured that I am saving that letter for another day.  My letter to Ms. Abby, or Jeanne, or whatever the heck her name really is, was actually a response to her June 27th column.

First, the original letter:
DEAR ABBY: I’m in college for interior design. A woman I have many classes with is making class time unbearable. She frequently interrupts the instructor, or says “uh-huh” repeatedly during lectures. It’s very distracting. I counted once, and she did it 100 times in one class — no exaggeration.
She also laughs very loudly at things that are not remotely funny, eavesdrops on other people’s conversations and interjects when her opinion is not asked for or wanted. Even our instructors are frustrated with her. When we have critiques of our work — which is quite often — she’s rude and uncalled-for in her critique, which is funny because her work is less than remedial, at best.
This woman is in her 40s. Most of my classmates are in their 20s and 30s. Is she mentally unstable or just socially inept? How should we deal with someone who grates on everyone’s nerves? I have tried ignoring her and giving her unsubtle hints that she’s being out of line. Some of my classmates have talked to our instructors about her and nothing came of it. I’m at the end of my rope. I dread every class I have with her. Please help. — DESIGN STUDENT IN SAN FRANCISCO
And “Abby’s” response:

DEAR DESIGN STUDENT: You have described a person who is sorely lacking in social skills. She appears to be unable to pick up on the normal “cues” that guide most people’s social interaction, which is very sad for her, because if she plans a career in interior design, she will have to successfully interact with many different kinds of people.
You and some of the other students should go back to your instructors and explain to them how disruptive and distracting the woman’s behavior has been. If nothing is done, complain to the head of the department. However, if the problem can’t be remedied, you may have to grit your teeth, remember that these classes are not forever, and keep as far away from her as you can.
Finally, my response to Abby’s response:

Dear Abby,
I’m writing in response to the letter posted on June 27, 2006 from DESIGN STUDENT IN SAN FRANCISCO. While I can sympathize completely with Design Student’s frustration over her distracting classmate, I am in the unique position of being able to see the other side of the fence – the possibility that 1) this woman may not be aware that she is annoying or rude, and 2) she may not be able to help herself.
I have a nearly-14-year-old daughter. When she started kindergarten, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome – a disorder related to autism, differing mainly by the severity of the symptoms. Because of this, Asperger’s Syndrome is sometimes also referred to as “high-functioning autism”. Individuals with AS are typically of average to above-average intelligence, but are sorely lacking in social skills. Design Student’s depiction of her classmate describes my daughter to a T. She must often be reminded to keep her voice down and not interrupt, she has a tendency to “put her 2 cents in” without being asked, and frequently laughs at words or situations that no one else finds humorous. Her assessments of others sometimes seem rude or overly-critical because she lacks that internal sensor that ordinarily helps us to temper our words to others. Brutal honesty is all she knows. My daughter is a very sweet girl – well, as sweet as a teenager can be!  – who would be devastated to hear that she was being annoying, rude, or had inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings. She simply doesn’t “get” social interaction. Maybe she never will.
My daughter will be starting high school in the fall. I hope more than anything that she will be able to go on to college and pursue a career that will make her happy, but at this point it’s too early to tell whether or not that will be an option. If she does go on to college, I pray that her classmates and professors will take the time to get to know and understand her and her eccentricities rather than simply electing to “keep as far away from her” as they can. What a lonely 4 years that would make.
Of course, I can’t say whether or not this classmate of Design Student’s really does have a legitimate reason for her behavior – maybe she *is* just rude. But then again, maybe she isn’t. Knowing that there are reasons behind a person’s actions doesn’t change the actions themselves, but maybe – just maybe – it makes them a little easier to tolerate.

Now I know my mother is going to have a field day with this one, because I’m probably the last person who should be touting tolerance, considering that I’ve been known to um…express my frustration…with my daughter now and then. But darn it, after 33 hours of labor, I figure I’m entitled every once in awhile!
And now, we’re off to see “The Devil Wears Prada”…maybe I’ll come back with a few fashion tips!

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