I'm a twentysomething woman living in an apartment complex. In my building, there's a mildly retarded young man about my age who lives with his mother. I'd guess his mental age is about 8. He's taken a liking to me. He seems to know my routine, and I constantly find him hanging around wanting to talk to me. I'm sure he's harmless, he's kind of sweet actually, but it's getting annoying! I find myself taking roundabout routes to avoid him. Sometimes I think I should just indulge him because he doesn't know any better. Other times I think he ought to learn not to hover around driving people crazy. I'd consider saying something to his mother, but I'd feel bad and she doesn't speak much English. Should I just accept that for as long as I live in this building, little chats with him will be part of my routine?
—The Girl Next Door
It's understandable that you want to be able to go in and out of your building without having to engage with "Pete," but when you live in an apartment, chatting briefly with others is part of the price you pay for not having to mow your lawn. Pete may like you, but he's probably hanging around a lot, trying to engage anyone coming in and out. When you have time, talk with him for a few minutes. When you can't talk, politely explain: "Pete I'm in a rush. I will catch up with you another time." It sounds as if Pete's mother is not aware that he may be eligible for free activities for the intellectually disabled. Maybe a group of fellow apartment dwellers could explain to the mother that she may be missing out on helpful programs for her son. Let me also note that the mental health community wants to banish the phrase "mentally retarded." I agree with my erstwhile Slate colleague Jack Shafer, who wrote that "mentally retarded" can be used in a respectful, clinical sense and that the preferred term "people with intellectual disabilities" is bound eventually to become offensive itself. Nonetheless, it's best to be sensitive to the wishes of those within a particular group.
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