DEAR ABBY: I just finished reading your June 9 column and am shocked at what I read. Your response regarding autism was way off base. You said, “Autism is a mental health disorder … some people consider … to be shameful.”

Autism is a neurological disorder, NOT a mental health disorder. Families who have a child with autism have many challenges ahead of them as they try to bring normalcy to their child’s life and to their family. I am very surprised that you got this one wrong! Autism is reaching epidemic proportions. These families need support, not misprints. – MELISSA IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

My thanks to you – and the many other readers – who wrote to correct me. After reading the letters and e-mail that came in, I spoke with William Barbaresi, M.D., the chair of the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics and co-director of the Mayo Clinic-Dana Child Development and Learning Disorders Program in Rochester, Minn., who told me that autism is often considered a mental health disorder because it affects behavior, cognitive ability and social skills. However, it is genetically predetermined – biologically based.

Experts clearly agree that autism is a neurologically based condition. The current criteria used to diagnose autism are contained in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a publication of the American Psychiatric Association. However, this does not mean that autism is a “mental illness.” Autism is most accurately described as a “neurodevelopmental disorder.”

While there is no cure for autism, intervention and treatments are available. And for the most up-to-date information on effective therapies, interested parties should read “Autism: A Review of the State of the Science for Primary Health Care Clinicians” by going to and searching for “autism.”

DEAR ABBY: How do you tell friends and family that you’re not interested in being fixed up? I’m a male, in my mid-40s, happily divorced for many years and have no desire to remarry.

I raised my children on my own, have a good job and many friends, but no desire to get into a relationship that could lead to more of a commitment than I am willing to make.

My life is good, but I’m constantly bombarded with questions like, “When are you going to get married again?” or, “Why don’t you let me fix you up? I have the perfect woman for you.” I don’t know how to respond to this constant badgering. Please advise. – THANKS BUT NO THANKS IN OHIO

Continue telling these well-meaning people you are happy with your life just the way it is, and if they don’t get the message, have a T-shirt made that reads “Been There, Done That.” You should know, however, that men who are married live longer than those who are single, or perhaps it just seems longer. (Only joking!)

DEAR ABBY: Is there a rule of etiquette regarding how men should wear long hair? My boyfriend’s hair isn’t long enough to pull into a ponytail, but it’s long enough that he is constantly sweeping or shaking it out of his eyes. If we were to go to a funeral or similar ceremonial (or formal) event, what should he do? I need some input. – HAIR-RAISING QUESTION

I have two words to offer: hair gel. Many products are available that will tame his mane, and you can find them at your nearest beauty supply store.

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

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