Dear Annie: I took a job at a local bookstore after my position as a special-education teacher was downsized. Now I have a “special ed” problem at work.

A woman comes in here once a week with her son, a mentally challenged adult. The son is big and heavy, and his mother is tiny and fragile. Every time they are here, the son has a meltdown. Today he threw himself onto the floor, blocking the checkout area, and wouldn’t get up.

I’m used to dealing with special- needs kids in a school, but not adults in a retail establishment. Would it be wrong to tell his mother we cannot accommodate her son in our store the next time they show up? I realize if we bar him, it makes us look mean, but we have a business to run.

A member of our staff suggested to the boss that we make them leave, but I advised against it. If we can’t get him to go voluntarily, we would have to physically escort him to the sidewalk, and he would probably struggle. If he gets hurt in the process, we’d be sued. I also advised against calling the police, because things could get even more physically rough.

I suggested to the boss that we wait for the next time they come to the store and politely refuse entry. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with these adults when they are on outings? — New York Problem

Dear New York: We contacted the medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), who said you’re to be commended for your sensitivity in not letting a meltdown escalate into a physical confrontation. What’s important is to focus on behavior. If customers cannot behave appropriately, store owners are within their rights to use discretion in asking them to leave or to not come back in the future.

In this case, the request can be raised gently with the mother the next time she and her son come into the store. To avoid discriminating against a medical condition, the store owner should state that they are welcome to return when they are able to properly manage the son’s behavior. The mother may need to talk to her son’s doctor about his treatment plan in order to address behavior issues. It is also possible that the mother cannot leave the son at home alone and has no one to help her in caregiving. Although it’s not your role to be a social worker, simple compassion can go a long way in helping the situation, including asking whether they have anyone else in the neighborhood or community to help them.

Dear Annie: A family member recently had a going-away party for the person’s son two days before he was to leave for boot camp. Many of us gave him gifts. The kid decided the night before leaving that he had changed his mind and wasn’t going after all. Should he return the gifts and money? Most of us think he should, but no one wants to be the one to tell him. — California

Dear California: Yes, all gifts and money should be returned as soon as possible. (The same applies to canceled weddings and other gift-giving occasions.) While it is not appropriate to call up the young man and insist that he return the presents, someone who is close to him or his parents can mention that it is expected.

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