Austin (KXAN) - School felt like a war zone for Daniel Wendler. The 24-year-old Austin man, who now has a college degree and a successful high-tech career, has miserable memories of his early years.
"I remember having this sense very vividly that my school was a battleground, and everybody else was on the other army," Wendler said.
Bullied and often left out, Wendler felt helpless. However, neither he nor his parents understood why he just did not seem to fit in with the other children his age.
"For my first year of high school she would come to wake me up and I would be in a cold sweat, because going out that door and engaging with that school was just such a challenge," he said.
The Wendler's lives changed when Daniel was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome in high school. Asperger's syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder that affected his ability to socialize and communicate with others.
It was difficult for him to make friends. The diagnosis though actually gave him hope, and instead of giving in to his challenges, he threw himself into learning everything he could about social skills for at least the next 10 years.
"I read a lot," he said. "I would get books on body language, books on conversation, books on etiquette -- anything that had to do with how people relate to one another."
His parents helped him learn social skills too. They would spend night after night watching movies with Daniel, and pause the movie every so often to explain the relationships among the film characters.
"With Daniel we would watch movies and there were many times we would stop more than we played so he could understand and we would explain what we knew about that, and that would just help him develop that skill," said Daniel's father, Alan Wendler.
For Daniel, learning social skills was like learning a foreign language, but the friendships he gained along the way changed his life. He put all he learned on a website called improveyoursocialskills.com . In the website's first year, he had more than 135,000 people visit.
It gets specific, giving advice on things like body language, making eye contact and empathy. Daniel also tells his personal story and motivation for creating the website in a video on the home page. He wants it to help others have close relationships that he has grown to know and love.
"I think because he was not worried about where he was on the list is why his friends were more meaningful, and I took that to heart too," said Daniel's mother, Linda Wendler.
Daniel credits the support of his parents for helping him grow up learning what some thought was beyond his ability. His mother and father say they learned an awful lot from their son as well.
"Skills can be learned and there's hope on this journey," Alan said. "As you look for resources and encourage your child and just help them understand, you go through this journey together."
"You have to listen really hard, but there's a balance between challenge and also accommodation," Linda said. "If you just accommodate then they don't grow."
"I would encourage people to look past and make friends with that awkward kid," Daniel said. "Unfortunately that's not the world that we live in all of the time, so until people are willing to look past that, I just wanted to equip people to move past that on their own."
Daniel has had people of all ages and areas visit his site and write him notes of appreciation. Some of those people have Asperger's syndrome like Daniel. Others do not, but Daniel says the website is for everyone, because everyone has some sort of challenge to overcome. If he can be any small or large part of helping them break through their barriers to having close relationships, he has accomplished his mission.
His parents want other parents to know they understand watching a child struggle through any challenge can be terrible and gut wrenching, but they also want parents to know Daniel's story of hope. With the right support and persistence, a child may take his weakness and ultimately make it his strength.
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