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.”

Published by Cristin Lind

Facilitator, consultant, speaker for better health and care through patient-professional partnership. Passionate about helping change agents build courage and agency. She/her.

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  1. Cris, I think you’re absolutely right, with practice we can all become experts at what we do, special needs parenting or regular parenting included. Some people however, do not have the patience to learn, or practice and want to become ‘instant experts’. Therein lies the difference between those who are perceived to have the skill or genius to succeed and those who do not. Patience to apply yourself, to know that you’re going to make mistakes, & fail & to learn from those mistakes, to strive to be better at what you do,not everyone is able to do that. Experience, aka practice, is education, & an expert is just one who is highly educated in their field. Love reading your blog!

  2. Love this post!
    With good coaches like you, many souls will keep showing up to “practice”.
    Thank you so much for being such a good coach, encouraging all to stay in the game, and just keep practicing!
    Goooo you!
    Your such a gift and blessing, how lucky am I…!

    1. Wow, it took me a long time to reply to you, but let me say that you are one of MY coaches. You deserve a whistle and a clipboard on behalf of so many families in our state. Glad I’m paying you back!

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