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Ask Dr. DombeckAsk Dr. Dombeck:
Psychotherapy and Mental Health Questions

Working with a socially inept young adult

Thu, Oct 9th 2008

My husband and I work with youth in our very small town. My husband teaches and coaches while I help with youth group and the teen center.

There is one young man that baffles us. He is 19 or nearly 20. He attends youth functions that we have privately told him that he is not allowed to attend due to being too old - the age range for youth group is 9th-12th grade. He makes girls uncomfortable as he sits close to them or will lean forward in his chair so that his head is just behind another girl's shoulder then sighs with disgust when she moves. He moves physically into the middle of other people's conversations and brings up very random topics.

He lives at home and takes online classes I believe. He was home-schooled - but I am not using that to knock home-schooling, just for information about his background. He doesn't seem to have close friends. He has a younger brother and a younger sister. Unfortunately they are nearly as inept, but quieter about it so at this moment it doesn't drive kids away from youth group. His dad is goofy, but pleasant to talk to. His mom shows similar social problems - interrupting and not taking social cues. He plays the piano, but even with a talent like that, he seems to have a good sense of when it is appropriate to play. For instance, after church, he goes up to the piano to play. If it was quieter, it may be nice background music, but he plays loudly despite our requests to use the damper pedal. I can be trying to show someone a function on the computer that is next to the piano and trying to be heard over his playing and he looks right at me and does not realize that maybe he should tone it down.

Another church incident as an example of the interesting behavior he portrays: On occasions a few of us make a small band to lead Sunday music. We invite him to play along. This past Sunday we didn't - 1) It was a last minute decision and we forgot to tell him, and 2) we were mainly doing slower songs that didn't necessary benefit from conga drums that he also plays. Finding out that the little band was playing, he set is drums up without asking us - okay, that's fine. He comes in during practice before church and asks if he could play. My husband answers, "We are playing hymns today." The guy mumbles something and walks away. During the service, we got done with a the first hymn, and he comes up on the stage to tell my husband, "You said you were playing hymns, but you didn't say you were playing one." Guess he felt like he could have played along with that hymn - which is fine, but coming up on stage in the middle of church to say that while the pastor is reading announcements? Oh my goodness, I'm frustrated.

When he comes to youth functions, kids leave - especially girls. I am tired of putting work into functions that no one attends because he comes. Thanks for letting me vent - that is nice therapy for me. :) Now, if you have any ideas or books or resources that can point me in a direction of how to manage this kid or change my perception of him so that he doesn't frustrate me. Telling him directly that his behavior is not appropriate may work at that moment but the next time that situation comes up, he is back to his old behavior. Do we just keep telling him - "Hey, dude, use the damper pedal" or "Hey, we were talk here and you are interrupting." Or are they other ways to reach him?

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