Love Him but His Kid Needs Help
March 21, 2010 5:58 AM   Subscribe

How to work with a divorced parents dating situation where you love the guy one-on-one, but his relationship with his daughter is another, entirely more problematic issue?

Been involved in long-distance dating great guy for a while now. Everything when we're together is working out pretty well.

But...(always the but) in the past few dates, we made the decision to get together with our kids (mine are older teens, his is 10 yo daughter whom he raises alone).

As briefly as possible (and some of you may see I've previously referenced his daughter as high-functioning autistic...she has NOT been diagnosed...): I'm a special education teacher and can spot a kid with issues from 10 feet. Hell, I even have my own kid with a disability.

The problem: based on the time I've spent with her and from what he's said about her, I think his daughter has some heavy-duty disabilities, needs a lot of help and it's very likely that she at least a minor form of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (she's adopted).


I won't get into the details but generally she appears to have a fairly low IQ, little sense of appropriate social behaviors, frequent tantrums, screams, throws things, etc. Hugely oppositional behavior combined with a lower IQ does not make a pretty picture.

Yes, he's noted all of this and asked me for help. My response has been if he has concerns, he should get her tested, take her to a therapist.

This past weekend was the breaking point. They came to visit us and she was a mess: things like name-calling and rarely using a normal conversational voice with her dad, she just yells at him; refusing to read the menu and order when out for lunch then shoving her plate across the table because it wasn't what she wanted; refusing to get out of the car in a parking garage because she decided we needed to park on the 6th level, not the 4th (yes, we waited that one out for 15 minutes in the garage); even with prompting of 5 minutes notice, etc., she stayed inside the house and wouldn't come out because she "wasn't ready," for almost 45 minutes, and when she's not having tantrums her rare contribution to any ongoing conversation is to keep interjecting, "Why?" when it makes absolutely no sense conversationally ("Hey, it's nice out; let's play football." Her response: "Why?"

I don't know if this is enough information but here's the question: he's asked for advice, I've told him that yeah, I do think his daughter needs a professional assessment and he needs some parenting help, so...NOW what do I do?

I like him but absolutely cannot deal with being around his kid.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total)
 
I like him but absolutely cannot deal with being around his kid.

Well...that's kind of a deal-breaker isn't it? I mean, even if he gets the kid some help, we're talking about long-term behaviour modification and a prospective partner is going to have to be around for some of that, I would assume.

You'd know as a Special Ed. teacher that these things don't come easy and don't come quick; if you can't stand the kid, you're not going to get a magically new version of the kid through help any time soon. Good luck!
posted by Hiker at 6:03 AM on March 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do want to clarify this: I very much like this kid. Hell, I work with the short bus kids and I love spending my day with kids who need help. I really do.

But...I don't want to be around a wild, uncontrolled, most likely disabled kid who isn't getting any help.
posted by dzaz at 6:10 AM on March 21, 2010


Huh. I think I just answered this, didn't I.
posted by dzaz at 6:10 AM on March 21, 2010 [28 favorites]


From your description, it's hard to imagine that he doesn't know there's a serious set of problems to be dealt with. You might help him think through his apparent resistance to getting help. Is it money? Shame that he can't manage her problems himself? Distrust of professionals? Perhaps a bit of calm conversation might illuminate a way through.

Still, some personal boundaries around what you will and won't put up with yourself seem appropriate.
posted by jon1270 at 6:22 AM on March 21, 2010


...he's asked for advice, I've told him that yeah, I do think his daughter needs a professional assessment and he needs some parenting help...

So, is he getting help for her or not? I can't tell from your question.
posted by amtho at 6:31 AM on March 21, 2010


Break it off and move along. You're not responsible for the world's problems.
posted by dfriedman at 6:41 AM on March 21, 2010


WTF? You're a special ed teacher and you call your charges THE SHORT BUS KIDS?! I'm thinking this guy's daughter has enough going on without "help" from daddy's new girlfriend calling her a SHORT BUS KID.

Genuinely caring, interested people with stressful and cynicism-generating jobs AND disabled children of their own often use humor as an outlet. Cf. "Tard Blog." It may not fit with your political preferences, but the word choice doesn't diminish OP's commitment to her work or her concern for her BF's child. She isn't here to say "ZOMG I can't stand to be around retarded kids!"; the wording of her post quite clearly demonstrates that she's upset by the fact that the child isn't getting help and can't deal with that after dealing with similar problems at work. Let's not attack anyone for seeking advice about a bad situation.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:50 AM on March 21, 2010 [27 favorites]


@headnsouth It may shock you to discover that mental health professionals are far less concerned with political correctness than civilians.

Answering the question - I imagine that arranging one's child's mental healthcare can be pretty overwhelming for a parent to deal with, especially if they've just been living with their kid's behavior for a decade. Since you are a professional in the field, you might be able to help him arrange that. Sure, it's a lot of work, but relationships and child-rearing are a lot of work, too, and if you see a future with this guy this is the kind of thing you will be doing for each other anyways.
posted by modernserf at 6:53 AM on March 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


This woman has an autistic son, advocates for children with special needs and wrote/cowrote a book entitled My Baby Rides the Short Bus. So I don't think that necessarily that was problematic terminology.

To the OP: Have you sat this man down and explained to him that getting help for her is not optional and that it could be a dealbreaker for you two? Besides, never mind what YOU are dealing with-this child needs help whether or not you stay in a relationship with this man. I think it's okay and even mandatory for you to firmly point this out to him. You have the training, you aren't talking out your rear end here, and this child needs help.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:56 AM on March 21, 2010


I truly apologize for any offending language. Er, yeah; those of us who work with these kids, help raise them and their parents, and love them so much it hurts, we do refer to them informally as the "short bus kids." We also call them our knuckleheads. Scallawags as well. It's a term of affection, but maybe I should stop. I always appreciate opinions and advice.

St. Alia, I've spoken to him about her more as the listening post, not as a professional. I was afraid to overstep boundaries, but he has asked me for advice many times. He seems genuinely overwhelmed but I've been afraid to say strongly that he HAS to get her evaluated.

I guess the advice I was asking for as this: is it appropriate for me to be that forceful? I had been concerned that to some extent, I don't want to be the messenger who gets dumped because I pointed out my concerns. Phrasing it as, "You've noted these concerns and asked for my advice. So why do you think you're in a holding pattern here that's clearly upsetting to you?"

I think I do need to have this forceful chat with him; if he decides to shoot the messenger, I'll know I did all I could.
posted by dzaz at 7:09 AM on March 21, 2010


Last week, he asked me about options of getting her evaluated privately or through her school (this is the type of testing that I do) and what type of letter he would write to her school to get the ball rolling.

He has written but not yet sent this letter.

But like I said, I was with her this weekend, and...uh...he needs to get moving NOW.
posted by dzaz at 7:18 AM on March 21, 2010


From what you are describing this kid needs to be evaluated and get a lot of intensive help starting several years ago. He's going to have to change how he parents and he's not doing his child any favors by havering, wishing for things to be ok and sitting on his hands. As the parent of a child with a learning disability I have been frustrated by how hard it can be to find appropriate support and guidance when we were first learning about what was needed and what was possible. I think that whether you stay involved with this guy or no you would be doing him an immense kindness to lay it out in considerable detail. You may have already decided that the way he deals with this child means you don't want to stay with him but for the kid's sake you ought to tell him. Having someone who really knows lay it out gently but firmly is a great gift although it may not be received with a lot of gratitude at the time.

I'd add that I know several families with high functioning Aspberger's kids who ultimately were in such denial about their kids assessments that they did nothing and now as young adults those kids are having a MUCH harder time than they might have had if they had received appropriate intervention. Neither of them were anywhere near what you're describing behaviorally either.
posted by leslies at 7:37 AM on March 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Totally appropriate to have this talk with him about her. You care about him (so far things were good, right?), therefore you care about his daughter, make sure you tell him that. Hell, if things work out with him she could be YOUR daughter too! I feel like things can be less tactful and more to the point with people you're dating, compared to having talks with friends. Tell him you'll have a hard time being around his daughter if she's not getting help, but that doesn't mean you want to bail, you just want to see that steps are being taken to help this kid and his family. If you already decided that you can't deal with this, honesty is still good when breaking up with someone, and he should know that his kid's situation needs help, even if he finds out as a result of a break up.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:03 AM on March 21, 2010


I have a feeling I know where your reluctance to "get involved" is coming from -- it's not quite the done thing to step in and offer advice about how to parent someone else's kid, generally.

But I think you can feel absolved of that because he has actually asked you for advice. In my book, when it comes to advice about anything -- kids, cooking, anything -- if someone actually SOLICITS advice from you, then I always take that as a green flag to go ahead and offer away. (I mean, some decorum and courtesy does still apply -- you wouldn't ask him, "well, of COURSE you need to get the kid screened, couldn't you TELL?", but telling him that you really think he should be taking care of this sooner and not later would not be impolite or meddling, because...he asked you.)

I'd couch your advice in "I'm just really worried about her, and I know from my experience that the sooner you get going on this the sooner help happens, and the better she does," rather than being all "what are you doing, get off your ass and do something!" But I doubt you'd take that tack anyway.

But since he asked you for advice, I think you are absolved of any "I shouldn't meddle" guilt.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:05 AM on March 21, 2010


As briefly as possible (and some of you may see I've previously referenced his daughter as high-functioning autistic...she has NOT been diagnosed...): I'm a special education teacher and can spot a kid with issues from 10 feet. Hell, I even have my own kid with a disability.

I think it's great that he's decided to pursue this with professionals (as in, not personally-involved professionals). But pretty much all of the behaviors you've described could be the result of being poorly socialized, being poorly disciplined, or just plain being a brat. In past posts, you've used your independent diagnosis of her as autistic as an excuse/reason for him to keep his ex around. I can't help but wonder if now it's become an excuse for her lack of discipline or his lack of parenting skills.

Just like any other relationship filter, what it really boils down to is: if he never made an effort to change his current ways (including pursuing a diagnosis for his daughter) would you want to be with him? Because honestly, kids are part of a package when you're dating a parent. It would be unfair to him to only enjoy his company when his daughter isn't around.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:27 AM on March 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


But more to the point: this is the, what, fourth question you've asked about this guy and the wrenches his daughter is throwing into your relationship with him. In three months. It really sounds like he doesn't have his life--particularly the parenting aspects--locked down enough to be in a healthy, functional, and adult relationship with another person; I suspect that this stands out even more to you as a single parent of three children who does have her shit together. This kind of mess might be okay if he was local, or if you didn't have your own life and children to consider. But, with the way things actually are with him, I strongly suspect that--no matter how much you like him--it might be time to move on to someone whose life isn't, frankly, such a mess.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:43 AM on March 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe just date him in such a way that you never hang with her? It really is okay to not want to hang out with her. You can probably maintain a nice LDR and minimize your contact with her. If she gets better, maybe you can revisit that and consider changing the nature of relationship.

I have to admit that in your situation I would give an ultimatum: decide what he needs to do by when and if he doesn't, end it firmly but with regret and sadness. I don't think that would work wonderfully well in this situation. She will not get better overnight if indeed she does have FAS or ASD. They are both pervasive and affect learning significantly, specifically the ability to generalize (as you know). If you go to a new restaurant, will she know how to apply what she has learned?

Some of this behavior is classic attention-seeking from a kid when dad's girlfriend is around, so keep that in mind, too.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:05 AM on March 21, 2010


Being a special education teacher, you know that emotional dysregulation is a part of her disorder, though, right? That it may always be that way despite whatever Dad does or doesn't do, and despite what the school does or doesn't do?
posted by so_gracefully at 9:20 AM on March 21, 2010


How is it that this child has reached the age of ten and not been classified as a special needs pupil in her school?
If her problems are as pervasive as you describe, any school system should have long ago identified the student as one in need of -- and entitled to -- all kinds of special services.
posted by mmf at 9:23 AM on March 21, 2010


This child is clearly a deal-breaker in the relationship, so you have nothing to lose by being honest, even blunt, and everything to gain. The child stands to benefit from your honesty, as well. Tell him, in the clearest way possible, that his child is out of control,and will not grow out of it, and that his child would really benefit from immediate intervention, and that it is the responsibility of the school, in partnership with him, to get her tested, and appropriately treated. He may be so used to living under siege that he can't see his way out. I think it would be a kindness to be blunt, as he is struggling with this.

School systems, in my experience, go out of their way to avoid diagnosing kids, because of the expense of providing services. Is she doing okay in school? If she's doing okay in school, but not at home, then he needs help learning how to parent her. It's very hard to be in a relationship where you are an expert in his child's parenting needs. You'd both need to recognize that.

You have to really think long and hard about whether you want to pursue a relationship with this man, because the child is part of the package, and it's not easy. On the other hand, you have 3 kids, including 1 w/ a difficult condition, and it certainly doesn't make dating easy, so if he's a keeper, it may be worth the risks.
posted by theora55 at 10:20 AM on March 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


I grew up with a sibling that exhibited some of the behaviors you describe in this child, although not all the behaviors. I don’t know if my observations/thoughts from watching this pattern, or my thoughts on this as an adult will help, but here goes. This sibling is not functioning well (and probably never will) as an adult, which is why I'm trying/hoping that something in here will help.

My parents were told on at least a few occasions by the school that they look into the problem more (and seek treatment). One of the recommendations was even an implied thread (the behavior would be reported as suspected abuse). Nothing was done, though. Later as a teen and an adult, I recognized a few things about this:
• There is a shame implied in acknowledging that the behaviors are symptomatic of (a) psychiatric disorder(s). People may look closer at you and blame you. (Is it the parenting? Is it in the genes). So perhaps your SO believes people will blame him for the current problems or that it is a symbol of a failure.
• A lay person doesn’t know what to do. I really wish I could have gone back in time and recommended that my sibling be assessed by a psychiatrist then – it may have given our family more steps as to what to do. I strongly believe though that the average person has no clue as to who to ask for guidance or even personal support. The family's loved one may be exhibitting every single symptoms of a psychiatric disorder, but they dont' have the tools to recognize what it is or that treatments are available.

As an adult, I heard this little blurb on NPR in a discussion with a few psychiatrists (and if you are going to suggest this to someone, I’d obviously locate a more authoritative source than heard…like the name of the person and the research) – it is much better to treat the kids as children than as adults. They used examples such as “Would you rather treat an anxiety disorder as it is emerging and give a child tools, but bring them back into a functioning level and they can form normal relationships with their peers?” vs “Do nothing. Untreated anxiety disorder for 20 years. This person may have never formed relationships for his or entire life, did not have a normal childhood, and still has the same underlying problem” So if I were in your shoes, I would point out that …wouldn’t you rather treat the child now and do everything possible versus wait until she is 20 or 30? Will that child grow into a functioning adult?

If I were in your shoes and your partner truly wants your help I would give him the reason of “lets try to treat this now versus 10 years from now” as a rationale. If necessary, I would sit down with him or go with him to an initial assessment by a psychiatrist, work with mental health (or more) professionals to at least have a plan to improve and work with behaviors (and find the resources of support groups for whatever the final diagnosis is). The diagnosis is essential as a starting point, though. Finally, there are resources for the parent (but after diagnosing the child first). The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill is for family members, too, and has support groups. They may be able to suggest how he can manage his own challenges that he will deal with plus suggestions as to how to work with his child.

All those steps seem overwhelming, but here is hoping that you could push him along with the first or second step, for the sake of that child. I really wish people could step in and help parents with their children, though, rather than waiting until adulthood. I think lives could be saved and chilren...could be children.
posted by Dances with sock puppets at 10:30 AM on March 21, 2010


Have you talked with your boyfriend about if her behaviors when you are around are the same as when you aren't around? Because I do wonder how much of this is her really not wanting to share her dad with anyone else. However, if her behavior is the same when you're not there, just ignore this.

I do wonder if his conversations with you, asking for advice, are just a way of talking about her clearly inappropriate behavior, rather than really wanting advice.

Also, no doubt this kid knows you don't like her. You say you do, but you don't. And that's okay. But I do have to wonder why you are continuing with a relationship where you really don't like the guy's kid. She'll always be his daughter. You are the temporary one.

(Spoken by someone with stepmom issues. So there you go.)
posted by bluedaisy at 12:03 PM on March 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bluedaisy, he says she's infinitely worse when I'm not around, so it's not that. He said he's shocked that she only has 10 outbursts daily in front of me as opposed to a much higher frequency otherwise.
posted by dzaz at 12:42 PM on March 21, 2010


It's interesting. I'm not saying this in a mean way, but this thread is kind of funny. He is drafting a request for her evaluation and not sending it? and he is asking you if you think she needs evaluated? And you're at the end of your rope but unsure if you should answer? :)

I respect that you're treading gently and slowly, and maybe you've been responding to a subconscious sense that he was not quite ready to face the situation. It truly is his to face and handle. And it is up to you whether you WANT to fulfill his request that you be the messenger. But it sounds like everyone in this situation is ready for this to be brought into the open and addressed directly, and it sounds like you're willing to be the messenger, and that your heart is in the right place, desiring her to get help. Go for it?
posted by salvia at 12:46 PM on March 21, 2010


(I almost wonder if you're not in his life partly because he needs help with this transition, but now I'm really speculating.)
posted by salvia at 12:46 PM on March 21, 2010


Salvia, yes, I've been dickering over whether or not to be more forceful with how I talk to him about this kid. it's been baby steps for a long time now, but this past weekend I just knew I couldn't be near him anymore until he got her some help.

Part of the problem has been that I really think (and let's set the kids aside for the moment), this could be the person I spend the rest of my life with. He feels the same way.

I've been a little freaked at the prospect of telling him something that will be 100% life-changing. But believe me, I GET that this kid needs an intervention whether or not I'm in the picture.

Neither one of us are "meant to be" thinkers (although both of our mothers are), but yeah, we've both noticed that he's fallen in love with someone who works with emotionally challenged kids and wonder if it's a little bit of a sign.
posted by dzaz at 1:03 PM on March 21, 2010


He said he's shocked that she only has 10 outbursts daily in front of me as opposed to a much higher frequency otherwise.

Your initial description made her sound like a very difficult child who likely has some type of disability or issue in need of treatment--a hard situation for the family, and something for which not every parent knows what steps to take. However, this follow up is immensely troubling. Her extreme behavior doesn't leave room for doubt or delay, and it's a big problem that he's dragging his feet on getting her help.

As a 10-year-old, his daughter can't really do anything to help herself. It's not as if she's going to say, "Dad, I seem to be having trouble behaving in socially appropriate ways. I'm going to speak with my teacher and pediatrician about getting evaluated for various behavioral health issues that might be causing this." It's his job, and he's not doing it. I don't know what this means for your relationship--perhaps you and he would be comfortable with your taking a serious role in the handling of his kid's disability-related needs--but someone needs to be an advocate for this child.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:47 PM on March 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Neither one of us are "meant to be" thinkers (although both of our mothers are), but yeah, we've both noticed that he's fallen in love with someone who works with emotionally challenged kids and wonder if it's a little bit of a sign.

It should be a sign for you.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:15 PM on March 21, 2010


dzaz: "Part of the problem has been that I really think (and let's set the kids aside for the moment), this could be the person I spend the rest of my life with. He feels the same way."

Unfortunately, there is absolutely no way to set the kids aside, ever. Even in adulthood, she will probably need help. That means 8 years from now, you will still be dealing with her. Adult kids don't go away, either. 16 years from now, you will probably still be dealing with her. Remember what you were doing 16 years ago? It's a long time.

The more you can internalize this, the better. If you two have any intention of going for this in the long haul, you will need to have significant input into her care. Worst case scenario, you end up doing a huge amount of the work of caring for her while at the same time having limited or no ability to make any decisions. That is an incredibly high-stress position to be in, and if you live with her, it will be 24/7. You won't be able to walk away. You have no idea what that's like. It's nothing like being a teacher. Take care of yourself first.

Good luck--
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:43 PM on March 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


The fact that she has outbursts more when dad is around, but not so much with others, suggests to me (a mom through adoption who has dealt with kids who tantrum way beyond what seems appropriate) makes me think there are some parenting issues here--it sounds like tantruming is how she gets what she wants from dad. So she's getting some sort of positive reinforcement for keeping it up.

Does she tantrum at school?
posted by bluedaisy at 2:46 PM on March 21, 2010


(And yes, you have a child with a disability, I know you've been there, but according to the man you're dating, you haven't even seen a small slice of her behavior.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:46 PM on March 21, 2010


Just saw what internet fraud said, and I want to echo that: Do you really want to live with kid? Do you want this kid to be at your kids' high school graduations?

You don't. And she's part of this guy.

(Stepmom issues rearing here--my stepmom just didn't get that my dad's 13 year old daughter was really going to be part of his life when they married.)
posted by bluedaisy at 2:48 PM on March 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Her teacher hasn't "nominated" her for an evaluation? Sounds like a problem with the school too.

Ask yourself if you'd be willing to date him if he got her evaluated and worked with? Could you see yourself with THEM in 6 months? A year?
posted by k8t at 4:09 PM on March 21, 2010


She's defiant at school and is seen as a discipline problem, yes. They've never evaluated her.

And I do see the dynamic between the two of them needs a lot of work; I see a lot of evidence of a disability but there's just as much bad parenting, oh yeah.

For the short term, I'll talk more forcefully to him and try to help him get past whatever is holding him back from getting her help. And getting him help.

Then we'll see how it goes. The picture could be more livable in time. But I could NOT take them on as is.
posted by dzaz at 5:08 PM on March 21, 2010


It seems like you have a good handle on what you have to so this may be overkill, but I want to put down my thoughts. You sound like a caring person in a genuine dilemma and I sympathize. I don't think there are any hard and fast rules here: only seeing the situation for what it is and figuring out if it's what you want. In your shoes, I'd be thinking about the following:

You mentioned in another post that he's in a close platonic relationship with his ex maybe in part because she's a convenient babysitter. And now he's fallen in love with you, someone who deals with emotionally challenged kids. So he's attracted to women who can help him and his kid. Are you comfortable in that role?

(I'm not passing judgment on this. I'm attracted to men who can fix cars, do carpentry, give financial advice, etc. I don't think there's anything wrong in seeking partners whose life skills are complementary.)

You're in a difficult position: to be asked for advice, to give that advice, and to then have no control over whether anything changes. You're long distance, not involved in his day-to-day life, no hands-on role in raising his daughter. Are you ok if he doesn't take your advice, doesn't take action? Does he want you to take a more active role, even now while you're still long-distance? Do you want to do that?

If you stay in this relationship, would you eventually live together? If so, you'd then be in a position to take an active role in raising his daughter. Would he welcome that? Do you want that? How do you see the possible blending of your two families? What about your kids?

What are the other big issues in your relationship? How compatible are you two on religion, money, sex, goals, social interests?

I wish you a lot of luck with this.
posted by Majorita at 7:57 PM on March 21, 2010


It seems, as posters have mentioned before, that he has this inertia regarding his daughter's treatment. Maybe it's due to guilt [did I cause this?] or shame [what will other parents think?] or fear [will she hate me for it?]. But it could be that he's looking to you to make these hard decisions for him. This could be why he is attracted to those who deal with emotionally troubled kids - the possibility of help.

The fact that you are posting about this with indications that this is a dealbreaker for you makes me think you need to tell him, as soon as possible. You are doing him a disservice by keeping it inside, especially if you both feel that this could be a long-term thing.

I would pick a time, in person (maybe a coffee or lunch date), somewhere private, and first reassure him how much you love him and how you are trying to help. Put on the "special ed" hat for a few minutes and explain how his daughter's behavior indicates emotional issues that are outside of the normal spectrum. Don't make any kind of implied threats to the end that you would break up with him if this didn't happen. Let him know that she's still young and has time to get the help she needs. I would reiterate at the end that he can lean on you but that he needs to do this himself.

Then wait. I don't think you could continue in a relationship with a man that still remained inactive in regards to his daughter.
posted by amicamentis at 6:34 AM on March 22, 2010


Update: he's getting her tested next week.
posted by dzaz at 12:56 PM on March 22, 2010


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