I’ve never been called a social butterfly. Not even close. I am a happy introvert. My Facebook “About Me” section says: I have two sons, one autistic, one not. Both are more social than I am. So I started blogging.
But long before I started blogging, I noticed something happening that I wasn’t too comfortable with. Nigel’s diagnosis threw me into frequent meetings with various therapists, teachers, doctors, and other people. Then Aidan’s special needs became apparent, and I had to deal with even more therapists, more people. As my sons learned to talk, I noticed that they were not introverts. One got interested in Scouting (actually both did, at first), and the other one went to a lot of friends’ houses. I met the friends’ parents. I met the Scouting parents. Some of them even became my friends. As the years went by, I met more teachers and therapists and other parents. The fact is that both of my kids, especially my autistic one, have gotten me out of my comfort zone. And I discovered wonderful people – and a side of myself – that I might never have known.
Even so, when I have to go to a meeting or call someone I don’t know, I still step outside my comfort zone on a weekly basis. But people with autism, whether introverted or extroverted, have to get outside of their comfort zones every day. Nigel, with his fear of bees and other flying insects, gets outside of his comfort zone every time he steps outside. He gets outside of his comfort zone every time he enters a public restroom and wonders if there’s an air hand dryer on the wall, and if someone will use it while he’s in there. He is outside of his comfort zone whenever a baby begins to cry or an alarm goes off or a light is too bright. How many times a day does he step outside of his comfort zone?
I attended a dinner party tonight, and I only knew one person there, someone I hadn’t seen for almost four years. I was definitely outside of my comfort zone. It’s not that I’m shy, it’s just that it takes a lot of energy for me to pull that off, to push myself to be social. But I’ve been doing a lot more of that in recent years, and you know what? I laughed and broke bread with these lovely people, and I talked about autism and homeschooling and my job and places I’ve traveled, and I really enjoyed myself. In fact, at some point during the evening it dawned on me that I couldn’t be out of my comfort zone because, well, I was comfortable. I really was.
It’s hard to get out of our comfort zones, whether we’re autistic or just introverted (or in some cases, both). But I think if we do it enough times, our comfort zones evolve. Nigel is now comfortable in grocery stores and restaurants, places that used to cause him such agony. He likes these places and asks to go to them. The last time we went to a movie theater, he didn’t even need to use ear plugs. Some comfort zones may always be difficult to step out of, regardless of how much we try. But others, with time and patient attempts, can change. It’s good to stretch ourselves, whether we’re conscious of it or not. We stretch a little bit, and our spirits are encouraged to keep going, keep stretching. The rewards are too great to miss out on.