On Comfort Zones

Every day we live in The Real World, we are faced with situations we are not comfortable with.  Many of these are people-related.  And of these, some are people who are different from us.  And of these, many are in the realm which my wife and I have become very familiar; special needs. “Special needs” can include a variety of conditions or circumstances such as developmental delays to full developmental disabilities, of which there are many sub-categories. Most special needs people do not relate or respond to the world like others do, and for this reason they make people uncomfortable. If this is you, don’t feel bad; you are far from the only one. However, since special needs people are a real part of The Real World, pretending they don’t exist or avoiding them when they are put in your path, is avoiding life in The Real World, which means living in a sort of non-reality.

More importantly, you are missing out on what I believe is one of life’s richest experiences; that of living with and loving someone who challenges you to stretch and grow beyond the type of relationship that carries the immediate rewards of mutual regard, and into one that mandates you to explore, to probe and to discover how to relate with and reach into this atypical person’s world.  For if you will apply yourself diligently to reach this “foreigner” (one who is foreign to the typical person),  when you succeed; when you see that first acknowledgement of your efforts, it is a moment like no other.



In the photo above, my wife is holding Sam, our adopted and very special needs son, as he reaches up to put his arm around her neck and return her embrace. He had just been trying to put his mouth to her face and give her a kiss, as many, many hundreds had been given to him. He was a little over two years old here, and the remarkability of these moments were astounding.  He was born with serious brain damage due to a stroke in utero.  His doctors told us he would live in a persistent vegetative state and never do much of anything beyond breathing and blinking his eyes.  He was also legally deaf and blind, among other diagnoses.

You can either accept what the Smart People say, or you can do what comes natural. Falling in love with Sam was as natural as breathing.  Loving on him and hugging and kissing him was more of a compulsion.  And we did it enough that he began to reciprocate.

I tell you again, there are no words to describe moments like these.  To say that love is a powerful force is a ridiculous understatement.  It drove us to expand our horizons and love beyond what made sense. It made an impact on a child that the Smart People said couldn’t be impacted.

I’ve heard that learning a new language is exercise for the brain.  It makes your brain work harder and can actually hinder the progress of Alzheimer’s. Trying to reach someone who is outside of your learned language and learned barriers is similar.

Most people are fairly committed to abiding within the confines of their “comfort zone”, but the boundaries of said zone are learned and thus can be manipulated.  As parents of both special needs and non-special needs kids, my wife and I do our best to ensure those confines include interacting with and regarding people with disabilities.  It has been one my greatest pleasures to have observed Michael, my 13 year old, interact with Sam and Sam’s classmates without fear or even hesitation.  He was crazy about Sam and gave him copious amount of attention and affection, and Sammy richly rewarded his efforts.

Expose your kids to people unlike them whenever you can.  Their “comfort zone” will include or exclude what you teach them to.



Heb 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.


If you have a person with special needs in your life or if this article has been a blessing to you, tell me about it in the comments section.

7 thoughts on “On Comfort Zones

  1. I was blessed to be the grandmother of Sammy, who loved and adored him as my own, every moment of his life. I have not, nor ever will, stop missing him. He is “forever in my heart”.


  2. I have a special needs Grandson and he just hugs at my heart. He is a kind compassionate young person. I wanted to scoop him up and take him home the moment I laid my eyes on him at just minutes old.
    He reaches out to people wherever he goes. He makes sure he isn’t a stranger in this world. It seems someone knows him wherever he goes. He is a special child who cares about other people. I have learned alot from him, including how to look at others with a caring heart. God brings every one of us into this world for a reason.
    Grammie Pat


  3. I have never had the pleasure of working with special needs children, but I have had the pleasure of working extensively with Alzheimers and Dementia in older and not so old adults. It has often been surprising to me that so many people struggle to embrace a friend or loved one with this disease. I have watched the progressive decline as this disease runs rampant and turns those they once knew into people they do not or barely recognize. Often hearing the words “I don’t know this person” or “that’s not the man I knew” they isolate them and distance themselves. Mainly because they fear the unknown. They fear allowing themselves to learn aknew, because dad would never have acted like this! I understand how heartbreaking it must be to watch the disease take the person you once knew. I don’t understand why we cannot allow ourselves to be drawn into their world and embrace the person they become. Yes, I understand it is a decline, I understand memories are fading and being forgotten forever, I understand mom can no longer entertain the whole family. I understand that dad can no longer teach you how to rebuild a car engine. But look deeper because mom can teach you how to laugh at yourself. Dad can teach you sometimes all you need is to sit down once in a while and not try to figure it all out. They can teach you how if you persevere, you can accomplish the smallest task yet see it as a major accomplishment. They can teach you that it’s not about the air we breathe, but the moments in life that take our breath away. I am glad you and your wife work tirelessly for those given to this world with special needs. I fear so many of us are robbed from having such special moments because of we lack the understanding of what “special” really is.


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