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I own a small juice bar, with two seats behind the counter for me and my employees, and a piddling number of seats for customers that are usually occupied.

My brother has genetic disorders and his 18 y.o. daughter genetic and developmental disorders. Every week she comes to the juice bar to visit me, and I cheerfully always treat to whatever she wants, free of charge, but she never leaves after finishing her juice.

She sits behind the counter and plays with her phone for hours, until I have to close up the shop at night. She says that she can't go home, as she loathes her dad (he smokes too much and the whole condo reeks, for instance).

Many customers look rattled when they see her, and some of them think she's my daughter! When the store's busy, her sitting behind the counter hinders the workflow. How to communicate to either her or my brother that as much as I care for her, her presence behind the counters is an issue when the bar is crowded? I don't know how to say it without upsetting them.

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    Can you add a bit more detail about the level of communication skills your niece has, do her developmental disorders influence them? Can answers about communicating with her assume they're communicating with an average 18 year old? – Tinkeringbell Jun 17 at 6:36
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    Is there someplace else in your juice bar she could sit on? And, if there isn't, do you want for her to just leave your juice bar and go home (or some other places)? – Ælis Jun 17 at 14:49
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    Can she help around the juice bar? She needs a place to go, but can't get in the way of you doing business so why not have her help? – jcmack Jun 18 at 3:05
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    @Amandad'Halluin Thanks! But apart from getting upset more easily, they'll be able to understand everything you say to them? (I know people that are my age, late twenties, but that can't communicate above toddler levels, so no long words/multiple questions at once, for example)... That's more the kind of information I was after, if that's the case for your niece/uncle too, answers should probably keep it in mind. – Tinkeringbell Jun 20 at 9:08
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    Is there a mother or any other parent figure in her life that knows how to talk to her? If I understand correctly, your brother is not a good option. I don't know if you will be able to learn that by reading a post in an online community if you can't after years of experience with your brother and niece (it might help), but the path of least resistance is often the best one and that might be through someone else other than you. Do you have e.g. a close friend that is good with people? Some are able to get through disorder or not, regardless of their prior relationship with her – Raditz_35 Jun 22 at 7:54
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Based on my experience with a child with a neurological difference (Tourette Syndrome), and also with a mother who was a royal pest in her old age, here a couple of suggestions:

  • Can you negotiate with her, or with your brother, for her visits to occur when it's not so busy, and for the visit to end after half an hour?

  • Perhaps you can ask your niece and your brother for some suggestions for some fidgets that she would enjoy, to have on hand for her visits. (Sometimes rather surprising things can keep a child occupied. Once, in a long, difficult meeting with my son's school, which he wanted to attend, so he could explain in his own words why he needed certain accommodations, the fidget that proved the most helpful was a scotch tape dispenser.)

  • With some children, the following works: pick a completely different time and place -- for example take her to a park or the zoo on your day off -- and build on some experience of hers, when she felt overwhelmed with too many people needed things from her all at the same time, to explain that when the juice bar is crowded is not a good time for you to receive a visit from her. If this would not work with her, you might need to do this part with your brother.

  • Are there any tasks you could assign her to do? Many children love feeling proud about being helpful. If the tasks are meaningful, that's best, but in the worst case, busy work can also be considered.

With the above, you will be modeling for her the kind of proactive approach she might want to use to negotiate with her dad about the cigarette smoke at their house.

You wrote

Many customers look rattled when they see her.

What I would suggest in this regard would be to create a collage of photographs, captions and articles on the wall, where you can show your customers how proud you are of your niece, and in the process establish what the family relationship is.

With this collage, you will be modeling for your customers a positive, accepting attitude about your niece's differences.

There's one more thing, but it's optional: you might suggest some other places where she might spend her time, for example the public library, a bookstore, a community center, the YMCA (sports and recreation center), public park (if the weather permits), after-school activities, church youth group, etc.

  • While the image of her helping out is pretty wholesome, I'd be very mindful of child labor laws specially people are taking note of her. – lucasgcb Jun 28 at 13:14
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+50

Gently redirect, and make the change worth her while.

From your description, it doesn't sound like she needs to be babysat. If this is the case, your best bet might be to gently coax her into another option. Because you're right, putting your foot down with your brother isn't likely to go well. She mentions the smoke and the smell of home, but she's conveniently 'forgetting' to mention that you probably aren't making her do chores or homework, either.

This probably needs to be on you, and it needs to be framed as a gentle change in plans. If she's good with cause-and-effect, painting a simple scenario might help lubricate the gears. Something like:

"I use this juice bar to make money so I can give you free drinks and presents (add in stuff for you if she's empathetic). You hanging out under the bar makes it harder for me to earn enough money to be able to give you free juice every week, and I'd be sad if I couldn't do that."

Then the tough part: helping her form a new habit. If you have time, walking/driving her home after her juice for the first couple months might help. If you're able, do something fun/memorable/tasty on the way. New habits are annoying to form (especially for the mentally disabled), so add something positive so it doesn't feel like she's losing something, but trading one thing (being close to her aunt and not having responsibilities) for another (some one-on-one time with you and maybe a small present or snack).

Sources: Best friend who is a caseworker on state DD cases,

A general overview of behavior modification techniques,

A more in-depth run through of behavior modification,

Why escalating won't help,

The general idea behind the practice

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