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Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Trouble with Experts

I have been thinking a lot lately about experts and expertise. Malcolm Gladwell has researched this topic in his book Outliers. Good book, I highly recommend. 

And this is probably a post that I should use for the organizational development blog I need to start just to get all these posts out of my brain. But it applies here because anyone in our situation has to deal with the so called "experts" all the time.  They come in all shapes and sizes from the obvious ones called doctors to therapists to school psychologists and on and on. The more issues your kid has the more experts you will have telling you want to do and what you can't do and more importantly what your kid can and can't do.

The trouble is that if Gladwell is right, expertise has its limitations. It takes roughly 5 years of practicing the same thing 8 hours a day to become an expert in it. Throw in all the differences in human functioning in each different human and then add in the differences in injuries, well you can see where this is leading. It's really hard to apply all that expertise.  Doctors have a hard road when it comes to this. And don't get me wrong they have helped us loads. They have also hurt Ellie irrevocably so just as much as they have saved her life.

There is a saying in OD that I heard from a woman I was training to do a leadership intervention. It is this:

"One size fits one."

It has stuck with me. It speaks to the need to take each case you come across and treat it like it's unique - because it bloody well is!

The problem with this approach is that if an expert does not continue to keep the same attitude of learning and humbleness that they probably had when they were training, they miss a lot of differences and uniqueness. Which leaves them open to being very wrong. Certain things that have been suggested for Ellie that have clearly been wrong and one look at Ellie would tell you that. But that is the problem with expertise. It can blind a person as much as it can lead them. 

And someone who relies on being an expert to hang their identity on will surely fail to have that questioned in any way. They will reject any data that was beyond their reckoning and that may contradict their expert opinion. This is dangerous at worst and a big waste of time at best. 

The trouble with expertise is that it can make us stuck. It feeds the ego. It comes cloaked in prestige. It tells us who we are and who we can have power over. It's so ingrained in our society that I have found when I don't take this role when I am teaching my students it makes them really uncomfortable and they may doubt my competence. They don't like it when I don't spoon feed them or if I question something that they think should be an absolute. I can tell you there are very few absolutes I have found to hold true.  Other roles like helping ones or collaborative ones have strict definitions for use and context as well as where they are allowed in hierarchy. And that is really sad. Sometimes life feels like it's about power shifts and control versus learning and discovery and accomplishment. As if controlling others was the task as opposed to actually creating something useful, like an assistive technology set up so a kid can find her voice. 

I am having some trouble with experts these days. I am having trouble with them not listening to me and not allowing me to collaborate with them. It's hard. It's prevalent in our society. 

But if there is one bit of advice I could give anyone with any expertise it's this:

"One size fits one."



Catherine said...

You are so right. When you listen to what the experts say in predicting what your child will and will not be able to do, they are telling you their opinions based on what the majority of studies and cases that they know. It may have absolutely nothing to do with how it will apply to your child even if what they are saying is a 100% outcome according to what they know.

Parents too often want numbers, predictions, opinions and then are upset when they get them. The information needs to be taken for what it is. It is not necessarily going to apply to your child at all. It does give you possibilities that you may want to consider. But to prepare for the worst and hope for the best is not the way to go. You also want to prepare for the best as you hope for it.

Enjoy your little girl as you are doing.

Emma said...

Oh I like that phrase "one size fits one". Because I've definitely had some very (should have been obvious) inappropriate solutions suggested to me and very little understanding when I declined them and tried to explain why.

Mamá Terapeuta said...

I LOVE this post. It's exactly what I feel, except for the fact that I have a little bit more 'rage' and 'unger' towords the so called 'experts' due to recent events.

I'm 100% sure that the only experts in our children are us, their moms. No one knows them better than we do. The sad thing is that they won't get it!

Kathryn said...

Mama Terapeuta - so true - we are the experts on our kids.

Emma- it's a constant challenge to stick up for oneself in this situation isn't it. Dave says I am always battling but you have to. Keep fighting!

Catherine - I agree. I saw a mom once who would not interact with her child who was fifteen because she told me the doctors said he would not develop beyond 6 month old level. She even had his chair faced away from her. And there he sat vocalizing to her trying to get her attention in a way no six month old could ever do. That made me really sad and that is the result of some expert telling her something that they had no right to and she bought it. The best experts know what they don't know and are not afraid of it!

Anonymous said...

I guess the trouble comes in when others take the same information you have - and yet make decisions that you wouldn't have made. Humanity...who would have thunk it. Everyone is different & has different thoughts and ideas about life & priorities. You would think the decsions may be all the similar towards a specific idea, but really since everyone is different because they're human, they are going to make different decisions.
So the question is... "why" did they think that was the absolute best decision for your child?. You may not agree. Good news is...You get to change it. You get to say, yes..I can see how you would think that, but really I don't believe that is the best decision for my child. This is why.
Experts need individualized training for each "one size fits one" from you and Ellie alone. Train them how to make decisions for your child the way you would want.
Control & power are illusions. They are things people get stuck in...a game they play and forget they are playing. Sometimes it is us that is playing it because we feel a loss of it and we see others as taking it away from us. Refuse to play the "control game". If you see it, best chances are playing it. What a time waster.
When you say you are having trouble with experts not listening to you or allowing you to collaborate with them - If you are paying for experts for your child or family, they have NO CHOICE but to collaborate with you. Are you not getting what you paid for? Are you not demanding what you paid for? Do you have a fear about the type of approach you have with these experts? If your approach is not working at getting the results you need...time to change your approach.
My advice on "one size fits one". Its a theory that you choose to place on the experts. Granted it may fall on some...but you create your own life. Find out what is stopping YOU from getting the results YOU want. Try a different approach..even if it makes you look mean...or crazy...or not professional. Resentment about needing to change something about yourself to get what you want can come up...but the bigger picture is truly what is best for your daughter and are you willing to change something about yourself in order to train your experts as best you can to make the decisions you want them to make for your child. Feel worthy! You & your daughter deserve nothing less.

Kathryn said...

Anonymous - overall I really appreciate you taking the time to write me such a thorough response. It actually made me go and approach the same teacher yet a 4th time on this matter. But you made some assumptions that put me off. The first being that I would actually pay a person who was doing a bad job. No - this person works for the school Ellie goes to. I don't pay her to use a head mouse on my kid. I also don't get to chose which teacher in this area I would like Ellie to work with because there is only one. I have given her the feedback and asked her to explain her strategy over 4 times. I have asked her to incorporate the use of Ellie's hands and she has refused. I have also gone to the head of the program. The only thing I have not done, yet, is say - ok enough - you are not doing this any more with my kid - which I am so not at all afraid to do. I have not yet, because that is the last best option and I still suspect there might be some method to the madness that this person cannot or is unwilling to explain.

The other thing you did was yell at me . I really don't appreciate that at all. Using all caps to make your point especially when it is a particularly negative one about me, the person you are giving the feedback to, is not only unnecassary but mean.
Also, you don't know me and you clearly made some wrong assumptions so you might want to ask yourself who am I really judging? What in this post brought up my own issues and how are those issues effecting me?

Lastly, coming in as anonymous and not even writing your name in the comment, especially when you are giving such negative feedback and harsh feedback really feels like a hit and run. Like you were too weak to even own your comment.

All of these things created a lot of noise around the point you were trying to make, which was actually a good one, but buried in a load of noise.

I try to own my own crap all the time and really don't like it when other people put their issues on me or make assumptions about me. So think about that.