Acknowledging Other’s Achievements

When I asked Emma if I could post this video of her doing her latest “catch”, she said, “Yes!  Post on blog!”

I’ve written about Emma perfecting her “catch” ‘here‘ and ‘here‘ and I’ve mentioned too, the hours of practice it took, for her to get to this point.  It’s important you understand how hard she’s worked.   She didn’t suddenly climb up a ladder, grab onto the trapeze, swing a few times and then catch someone else’s arms one day.  She has been practicing this for years.  Just as she didn’t suddenly begin typing sentences or one day open up a book and start reading it, Emma has worked hard, incredibly hard and for anyone to suggest otherwise is doing her and others who are accomplishing wonderful things a tremendous disservice.

Far too often we hear stories of children and people who, seemingly miraculously, began reading grade level material or began typing their thoughts or began playing an instrument and to us, the reader, the person who has just now discovered this story, this video, this whatever it is, it seems it all happened “suddenly”, “miraculously”,  “overnight”, yet this is rarely the case.   Years and years of practice, of hard, hard work have taken place before that moment when we become aware of the person.  How many times have we heard about someone being an “overnight sensation” with lots of exclamation marks following those two words.  How often do we hear of someone who has accomplished incredible things, we marvel at them, but we also dismiss their tremendous accomplishments with our belief that it all happened “miraculously”.

The years leading up to those success stories are not so interesting to most of us.  We don’t really want to know about the daily grind, day after day of showing up to perfect or master a skill.  When we apply these same beliefs to people with disabilities we are doing them a tremendous disservice.  Not only are we ignoring the difficult work, the hours and hours they put, in practicing and honing their skills, we are dismissing all that hard work with words like “magical” and “miraculous” and we are ignoring just how hard that work is.   There is nothing miraculous about someone accomplishing something after putting in hundreds and thousands of hours of practice and hard work for years.  Their accomplishment is not an indication of our failure.  We do not need to dismiss someone else’s achievements to make ourselves feel better.

All those people who have gone on to prove themselves as more capable than most people gave them credit for are NOT examples of miracles.  They got to where they are through HARD WORK.  To all of you,  Emma Z-L, Carly Fleischmann, Tito Mukhopadhyay, Jennifer Seybert, Jamie Burke, DJ Savarese, Barb Rentenbach, Amy Sequenzia,  Emma Studer, Paige Goddard, Amanda Baggs, Henry Frost, Larry Bissonnette, Tracy Thresher, Sue Rubin, Alberto Frugone, Richard Attfield, Nick Pentzell, Rob Cutler (there are too many people to list) to all of you who have worked so hard, who continue to work every single day to communicate and do all that you do, your hard work is acknowledged and appreciated.  I need you to know how much I appreciate the days, months, years, and for some of you, decades that each of you has spent showing up, day after day to do what does not come easily.

You are leading the way for my daughter.  You are showing me how it’s done; I cannot thank you enough.

Emma practices climbing the rope wall

Nic & Em

20 responses to “Acknowledging Other’s Achievements

  1. I am so glad you wrote this, a topic I want to bring up at Syracuse. It seems to be a favorite straw man setup as well: we shall unilaterally proclaim they must have done this overnight, and then we shall point out that our own construct is difficult to believe. Well…yes, yes it is. Reality would be easier to believe, but more boring, and give you fewer chances to one-up others or do whatever it is those who like straw men are trying to do. I wish they would go to Burning Man and loosen up. I hear there’s a fun folk fest in Australia too where you can torch those things. Just let’s keep these straw men out of discourse!

    • Ibby, it’s a great topic to bring up at Syracuse! Few people get the kind of heinous doubting and insistence to prove themselves that those who are non-speaking and type to communicate do.
      Burning Man!! Hehe! 😀

  2. That is wild! Tell Emma I’m so proud of her!

    There is also something that can happen, when skills seem to appear suddenly, even if they weren’t being taught or drilled…one day you can wake up, and BAM–can do something you couldn’t the day before. This is how bike-riding happened for me. No matter how much I practiced, I couldn’t do it. I threw my bike in a corner of the garage. A couple of years went by. One day I thought it felt like maybe I could…and I just could. (I am most definitely not recommending this approach to trapeze stunts. 😉 Sometimes you do suddenly just *get* something that you didn’t before. But the gears were turning all along without anyone else being able to see.

    It STILL isn’t miraculous or magic, though it can feel like it–it’s that there was an internal process of putting things together going on the whole time, or that something about the context was just right, or that a lot of other things had to be learned or fall into place first.

    When other people can’t see how something happens, so many of them write off the possibility that it does, and it’s frightening when what gets dismissed is the possibility that someone is present, as a whole person, and does learn and think, when the way they do is simply obscure to an observer.

    • I will tell her. That will make her really happy!

      Oh how I love that you brought this up, because this is also something I’ve witnessed first hand. Even though it “seems” like it just sort of happened, suddenly/magically, it is almost always long in the making.

    • I wonder if we really need to know which gearss turned when, when I read this. I still think that it all is miraculous, going from the most basic lives of single-celled creatures to human beings, I don’t think that it would be as much fun and interesting to live if I were to lose my awe and amazement that we actually live at all. Accomplishing anything else is truly great feats, whatever we do or don’t. It’s that simple to me.

      • Oh Petri, I’m not encouraging anyone lose their awe and amazement in life! Quite the opposite. What I object to is how so often people will either dismiss or flat out disbelieve the accomplishments of others (and specifically I’m talking about non-speaking Autistic people who begin communicating by typing, often in the beginning with support or, in the case of Emma, fly on a trapeze and perfect a catch.) The assumption is that either the person has some “magical” quality that required no practice or effort at all and therefore they are an anomaly, or they believe it is all a hoax. In the case of typing to communicate it is often suggested the person isn’t really typing, that they can’t possibly be intelligent enough to do that, or they are “miraculous” and therefore no one else (their child) could possibly be capable of doing anything similar.
        That thinking is hurting people who work so very hard.

        • Yes. Though even if I still contend anyone’s magical, I’ve begun to agree with the effort perspective. I must admit I didn’t believe in FC, though I must say, I have never actually witnessed the “typing” version myself, although I can see the similarities, whether it’s in speaking, in even walking or learning anything at all, not to want to simplify too much – but we all have our peaks and troughs, and some are more to bridge than others, I guess. Now, however, even facilitating another’s life seems to be a talent, to bring out yet another talent in essence, that’s even more magical for me, and the best leap of faith I can imagine. Godspeed, whichever pace that is. (I’m just as restless as you wrote about being, but I’m somehow getting up to speed. Even if however roundabout.)

  3. Yes. Once again thank you for saying what needs to be acknowledged – just because we can’t always perceive it, it doesn’t in any way mean that hard work is not going on. Just yesterday M chose to use a touchscreen computer in her classroom instead of her iPad — who knows how many weeks of observation and consideration it has taken her to take that big jump. Blessings to you and Emma always, and thanks to her for sharing her second “big catch” experience!

  4. Amen Ariane I know what you mean it took me weeks to learn how to put on and take off a t-shirt and people either don’t notice or they act like it’s a miracle. Great job Emma who knows maybe you’ll go to the Olympics one day.

  5. Awesome catch!

  6. WOW that was super cool. I’m trying to figure out the biomechanics & what I can say is “quite difficult lots of upper body strength”.

    Seriously. I wanna take a trapeze class with Emma. She can show me how it’s done. Give me some tips.

  7. Pingback: The Process of Creating | Where Art & Life Meet

  8. Wow my heart was in my mouth watching even though I knew Emma would make the catch – that’s some serious work she’s been putting in there. Well done Emma.

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