Comfort Zones

Riley marched in our local St. Patrick’s Day parade with her Girl Scout troop yesterday morning. She had her first game of the spring soccer season yesterday afternoon.

I attended neither of these events.

Now, I’d be making a blatantly false claim for Dad of the Year if I said I didn’t enjoy my leisurely Sunday around the house with Ryan while Veronica drove Riley all over town. We watched hockey and played air hockey between periods of the games we watched. I did enjoy my lazy Sunday thoroughly, especially after traveling halfway across the country and back in the previous 36 hours.

But the reasons why I was home with Ryan, and in fact why I had pushed to get back from a business trip so quickly, are more complex, and they go to the heart of our family dynamic. I wanted to be home precisely so that Ryan wouldn’t have to go to the parade or the soccer game, because forcing him to attend either was likely to result in difficult behavior and confrontation.

It’s a question we face every day with Ryan. Specifically, how far do we push him outside of his comfort zone?

comfort zone

Ryan’s behavior is pretty manageable if we let him do what he enjoys all the time. He’ll sit happily in his room for hours, typing NHL standings, or watching NHL highlights online, or playing with his Hockey Guys. And we do let him have his time to do just that.

But we also know that allowing him to spend all his time away from the rest of the family doing these things presents a two-fold problem. He gets zero social interaction, and it only makes it more difficult to push him outside of his comfort zone the next time.

Like most kids on the spectrum, Ryan craves routines and hates spontaneity. We prep him for any activity that he doesn’t enjoy such as running errands. The head of the social skills program he attends suggested throwing some curve balls at him from time to time, to help him learn (and accept) that sometimes things happen and you just have to deal with them. We have tried this approach, but probably not often enough to make an impact. Instead we stick with the time-tested strategy of giving plenty of advanced warning and hoping for the best.

Sometimes, we just choose to avoid the anxiety-inducing confrontations altogether.

A couple of weeks ago we had our sitter watch both kids while we went furniture shopping. The guarantee of avoiding an ugly scene in the showroom was well worth the added expense. Yesterday, it meant splitting up. And so I had a (thoroughly enjoyable, lazy) Sunday at home watching hockey with my boy while Veronica took Riley to her events, texting me updates from each.

It worked out fine. But it wasn’t without guilt, both for missing Riley marching and playing, and for wondering if we’re not making the situation worse by not pushing Ryan more.

For now, we’ll continue to approach these challenges this way. It’s what works for our family right now.

How far do you push?

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15 thoughts on “Comfort Zones

  1. I’m a pusher. But I don’t know if that’s the right way to be at all. Sometimes (a lot of the times actually) it works out great and we have amazing days that make me feel confident in our approach. I don’t think my son is quite as inflexible as Ryan is. But then there are the other days. The ones where you feel like the worst parent in the world and you scold yourself up, down and sideways because we should have known better. It’s still a work in progress for us too but for now we push.

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  2. Obviously, regardless of diagnosis, parents have to divide and conquer sometimes when two kids have different schedules, and then there’s guilt.

    Leslie (my wife) probably does a better job of pushing Lily out of her comfort zone and taking her places. I’m probably a little TOO content to push her in the privacy of our home, tossing her on the bed or tickling her or wrestling with her.

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  3. Wow. This hit home. I’m a pusher, because I have to be. My husband has always worked weekends. If I didn’t push all these years, there would be no groceries, no soccer games, no activities for his sister (or him now), no birthday parties, no church etc. It is not and has not been easy. I remember watching A play soccer from the truck because L couldn’t deal (she just turned 5 and I could hear the other moms saying, “Where IS her mother?!”). It’s a lot easier now, and I think pushing him all these years certainly helped that. But if I had the option, I’m positive I would have chose to avoid difficult situations altogether. Don’t feel guilty. We all do what we have to on this crazy roller coaster ride. Ryan is a lucky guy to have you there for him.

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  4. Ah, if we could all stay in the comfort zone….For us, Tate goes from comfort to anxiety in no time. I am more likely to push him in every day situations, like running an unexpected errand, or making a side trip to the store…but there are times when it is easier for ALL involved to keep him home, such as “family” activities with our older son’s Cub Scout Pack or PTO-sponsored events at either of the boys’ schools. His flexibility varies…but like many kids on the spectrum, changes in routine throw him for a loop.

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  5. Thanks for everyone’s thoughts and comments. We are also pushers, but not in all circumstances. Sometimes we choose not to push in order to allow Riley to have an uninterrupted and drama free experience. Sometimes that is just the right thing to do.

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    1. Agreed…anyone with a child with special needs has enough day to day drama. I have no doubt that you & your wife push…we all have to do it…but it is nice when we can afford our child some time to just be.

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