'Free hugs' help man with Asperger's

May 14, 2012 at 5:34 PM

SAN ANTONIO, May 14 (UPI) -- A San Antonio man who can often be seen offering free hugs across from Alamo Plaza said the project is helping him with his difficulty interacting with others.

Christopher Webster, 27, who has spent many of his weekends during the past six years holding his "free hugs" sign on the streets of the city, said the scheme was born from his desire to counteract his Asperger's syndrome, which makes it difficult for him to interact with others, the San Antonio Express News reported Monday.

"It was stepping out of my comfort zone," he said. "Once I started, it became natural. Sometimes its boom, boom, boom; it's mind-boggling."

Mark Stoeltje, executive director of San Antonio Clubhouse, a non-profit prevocational program for adults with severe mental illness, said Webster, who has also been diagnosed as bipolar, was withdrawn before he began his hugging project.

"He brought in a personal DVD player and watched Tim Burton movies," Stoeltje said. "There's a part of him that knew [the landing] is where he needed to be, and he started coming out of his shell, more and more."

Webster said he averages about 22 hugs for each Saturday he stands at his post, but he received a record 81 hugs in 45 minutes on St. Patrick's Day.

"I do it to make the world a better place," Webster said. "One hug at a time."

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