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Ask Dr. SchwartzAsk Dr. Schwartz:
Psychotherapy and Mental Health questions

Is Our Son's Behavior Indicative of A Mental Health Problem?

Dr. Schwartz, after reading Dr. Dombeck's answer, "Highly Intelligent but Socially Handicapped: The Psychology of the Nerd," published nearly three years ago,(Jan 18, 2008 and at the following URL:

I wondered if my 12-year old son could turn out like the man described in the question?

My child is highly intelligent but socially awkward. He doesn't realize what he's doing, socially, that forces others to view him as different. His style of dress, for instance, is different from those in his class and he doesn't seem to care. He is very aware that he has little to no friends. He says awkward things and talks about things other kids don't want to talk about and he uses big words that only educated adults would use. Sometimes it appears that his brain is working faster than his mouth can handle.

He is the 2nd of 4 children, with an older brother, a younger brother, and a younger sister. All three siblings are very active in sports and enjoy the outdoors with biking, running, water activities, etc. He would rather stay in the house and read or play games (he is not "addicted" to games--maybe 1 hour per day depending on chores/homework). When the games are taken away, he will just sit around and mope or just lay on the couch. He also does this when the games aren't taken away. He'll just walk around saying, "I'm bored." He will participate in activities at times, such as when we go to a water or amusement park or to the YMCA to go swimming.

He is a very sensitive child and likes to make people happy. When his grandmother asked him if there were a sport or activity that he would at least try, he said he'd try karate. So we signed him up to karate and that is going well so far. But his sullenness and quietness persist.

We looked up the characteristics of Asperger's Disorder but he just doesn't seem to fit. He's very empathetic and is very keen about the feelings of hurt and pain in others. Even when his sister hits him or causes him some sort of anguish, he knows it's not right to "get her back." Although he understands the concept of "justice", he doesn't believe it's through inflicting pain.

It is rare to find our son happy more than 25% of the time. He is either depressed or even-keeled. This is a stark contrast to our other children. Our household is very stable. There is no divorce, separations, etc. There have been no serious incidents in the past 7 years other than we experienced a stillbirth in 2004, and there was a funeral. Also, we are not a poor family.

We support him in all he does, yet, nothing seems to satisfy him. He is not a spoiled child and he is very thankful for all he receives. We are somewhat kicking ourselves for not seeking help sooner, thinking that he is who he is and he will be fine. But now we're wondering if we've done him a disservice, as parents, by not helping him achieve some modicum of normalcy as it is influencing his level of happiness.

What is your general thought and what type of specialist we should take him to? Thank you so much.



  • Dr. Schwartz responds to questions about psychotherapy and mental health problems, from the perspective of his training in clinical psychology.
  • Dr. Schwartz intends his responses to provide general educational information to the readership of this website; answers should not be understood to be specific advice intended for any particular individual(s).
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