As I approach my 10th year milestone of parenting a child with special needs, I remembered some research I read years ago about what makes someone an expert.
Psychologist Anders Ericsson is well-known for his theory regarding expertise: it doesn’t take innate skill or genius. Just lots and lots of practice.
In study after study and field after field—tennis, music, chess, computer programming—his research contradicted the old adage that you have to be born brilliant or talented in order to achieve expert-level skills. On the contrary, Ericsson says that you have to be willing to apply yourself, work on the things you find difficult, act and think deliberately, find great coaches and mentors, and practice, practice, practice. Ten years or 10,000 hours, in fact.
This was great news for me. When it came to possessing the knowledge to parent a child with special needs, I was not “born this way.” In fact, I was ignorant, procrastinating, in denial, insecure and often misinformed.
At the time that the first symptoms began to appear, I wondered how I was going to handle the challenges I faced. But little by little, a knowledge base was born.
I’ve gained so much uncommon knowledge, like how to understand how the body works (and how to work with the parts that don’t), how schools and systems work (and how to creatively get what I need) and how society works (and how to change it). I’ve gained skills in research, lobbying, advocacy, creative problem solving, therapy, analysis, management and communications, organization, teaching and education, networking, systems change and social justice.
Here I am, 10 years into it (and much more than 10,000 hours) and I notice that I have gained a certain level of expertise. I don’t always have the answers, but I know where to look for them. Or at least I have the confidence that I can figure out where to look, and lots of people who can help me if I need it.
So the next time someone comments “I don’t know how you do it,” you can tell them the truth. “Practice.”