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by Abigail Van Buren

Teenage Outcast Can't Learn Social Skills All by Himself

DEAR ABBY: You assured "Overwhelmed in Ohio" (Dec. 18) that fellow student "Dan" will "move on and start building a life" after high school is over. On what base might he build? Because "Overwhelmed" says Dan is an "outcast" whom everyone treats as invisible, and he has attached himself to the one person who has befriended him, it appears he has completely missed the normal teen social-learning process. How, then, is he supposed to have acquired the social skills necessary for building connections later in life?

There's a difference between being unpopular and being ostracized. An unpopular kid can participate in social situations with similar kids. A kid who is shunned cannot. Unfortunately, Dan may be on a path toward lifelong social illiteracy and isolation.

What needs to happen before "Overwhelmed" pulls away is for the adults in charge of this school to figure out why Dan has been ostracized, and develop an effective remedy for the situation -- one that gets Dan into normal relationships with other people. And there should also be lessons about empathy provided to the students who are shunning him. -- KNOWS FROM EXPERIENCE

DEAR KNOWS: Thank you for your insight. You are by no means the only reader who felt compelled to chime in on this sad situation. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: High school can be a cruel time for many young people, especially those deemed "outcasts" by their peers. I had a friend in high school who truly suffered. I made it my mission to make sure he felt he had a friend and wasn't completely alone. I hung out with him at lunch, at the library on weekends, and tried to include him in activities I was involved in. I defended him to those who called him names, and although I was younger than he, I felt like his protector.

Now, eight years later and living in different states, we are still friends. He told me recently that I was the only reason he didn't attempt suicide in high school. He said I had saved his life by just taking a few moments out of my day to say hello or hang out with him. At the time I didn't realize the lifeline I was extending. -- LUCY IN OAKLAND, CALIF.

DEAR ABBY: My teenage son was similarly "invisible" to most of his classmates and it led to deep depression and anxiety. He is now at a school with other kids who have social learning disorders -- a broad class that includes Asperger's syndrome and a general failure to observe and respond to social cues.

If Dan falls into this category, he needs the help of both the adults and teens in his life. There is also effective therapy available for social learning disorders, and a decent school counselor should be able to help Dan and his parents find it. -- MOM OF A FORMERLY INVISIBLE TEEN

DEAR ABBY: Dan might be autistic, which could explain his behavior. I have an autistic son who is high functioning. His social skills seem immature and he appears "geeky." People have shunned and teased him because of it.

After managing to develop some friendships in band (which, by the way, has some of the best geeky kids who accept others) and a church high school group, his social skills improved. But he needs those kids who overlook his quirkiness and befriend him to help him build confidence. They do exist; you just have to sometimes search for them. If Dan starts feeling more accepted by others, it may lessen his dependence on "Overwhelmed." -- JANN IN TEXAS

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