My brother (19) has always loved video games and spent most of high school playing online with his friends. However, I believe that this has seriously stunted his social growth. He went to a different high school than all of his middle school friends and remained friends with them but wasn’t able to make any new friends at his high school. His high school was a catholic all boys school with extreme athletic pressure and was known for being mostly “alpha males.” My brother did not fit in at all and I think that this isolated him from social interaction throughout high school. I assumed that in college he would be able to make friends because there would be a wider variety of social groups, but it is now his sophomore year and he has made absolutely no friends. He is very uncomfortable in social situations and avoids eye contact with people, but when he is around people he is comfortable with he’s completely normal. He mentioned to our mom that he wanted to go out one night but he didn’t have anyone to go with. I have had him hang out with me and my friends before but he is extremely awkward and finds it hard to talk to them. It is almost as if he hasn’t developed any personality due to missing out on social interaction in high school and I am extremely worried (as are my parents) about him because I can’t really help him be more confident and put himself out there. I think that he is struggling with confidence issues as well as SEVERE social anxiety but there is no way for me to help him. He is an engineering major so he has little time to socialize and this has not helped him meet new people at all. How can I help him? How can someone regain confidence and build a personality after such a traumatizing high school experience?
You mentioned that his high school experience was “traumatizing.” That may be how you see it, but that may not be how he sees it. It would be interesting to know if he considered it traumatizing. Many people have similar experiences with peer pressure in high school and don’t perceive it as traumatizing. Maybe it wasn’t as traumatizing as you perceive it to be.
Also, you are assuming that his personality growth was stunted because of his limited social interactions in high school but the reverse may be true. His limited social skills may be the reason why he interacted so little with others. Deficits in social communication can prevent people from connecting with others.
One possibility to consider is that he may have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a developmental disorder that primarily affects communication and behavior. There are two core elements of ASD. These include a deficit in social interaction and the presence of repetitive and restrictive interests and/or behaviors.
Your brother is showing a potential problem in the area of social interactions. His interest in video games may qualify as being a restrictive or repetitive interest and/or behavior.
One other element of ASD is that problems with communication and behavior interfere in an individual’s ability to function properly in life. According to your letter, the problems you have described with his communication and behavior do seem to be interfering with his ability to function in life. In fact, that is your major concern and reason for writing.
One other aspect of your brother’s behavior is his avoidance of eye contact. Individuals with ASD often have problems with visual attention. They often report having extreme difficulty looking others in the eyes. People with ASD say that it is a stressful experience. Some have said that “it burns.”
In our culture, it is considered disrespectful not to look someone in the eyes. If you’re speaking to someone who is continually looking away, people might be offended by it or even frightened by it. The reality is that sometimes individuals with ASD are overwhelmed and are not intending to be offensive or to show disrespect. Too few people in our culture understand this.
Obviously, I cannot diagnose your brother on the basis of a short letter. I’m simply pointing out the fact that he may be demonstrating some of the characteristics of ASD. You can read more about ASD. There are many great resources on the internet.
You might speak to your parents about the possibility of your brother undergoing a psychological evaluation. The evaluation could shed light on what might be wrong, if anything. If ASD is a possibility, then your brother should consult a professional who has experience with ASD.
Once he undergoes an evaluation, you will have a better understanding about what may be wrong. Hopefully he will be open to having an evaluation. That would be a great place to start. Good luck and please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle