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Conscious Competence Ladder: "When you know that you don't know!" — suzanne-mcrae.com

Conscious Competence Ladder: “When you know that you don’t know!”

It makes a while that I feel somewhat stuck with regards to my son who has autism. Stuck in the space that I call I know that I don’t know.

A few years ago someone shared with me information about this tool called the Conscious Competence Ladder that explains the 4 stages of learning. It was a concept I had never heard of and I wondered how I could apply it to my life. Recently I took the opportunity to take a peek at it again.

My daughter made me the conscious competence ladder below in the form of a totem pole. I have felt a connection with totem poles for as long as I can remember. So I loved her idea.

There are times that I feel frustrated that I can’t quite grasp how to communicate better with my son. There’s a gap, a void that’s there. I don’t always have the know-how to communicate better with him, yet he’s come a long way since he was little but I wish that it was easier where I could simply say ‘I’ll just teach him more words’… but it goes way deeper than that and it’s far from being simple. Part of me wishes I could find the key to unlock the words. But I know that’s not the answer either. I know that it’s not just about communication.

Maybe it’s not having him communicate with more words that I’m looking for, maybe I’m looking to understand him better. He’s grown into a young man it seems like overnight almost. He’s now a 22 year-old, no longer a child yet communicating is challenging. I know that with time what feels like gaps right now will be filled with something different and it won’t look the same as it does today. There’s a part of me that is impatient, but I have also been trying to figure it all out for 22 years with him. Maybe I’m tired because I’m not there yet and I know I need to continue until I get it.

I often wonder… What if there was nothing that needed to be fixed? What if he was perfect just the way he is? Who would I be if he no longer needed me? These are all questions I ask myself since I’ve been there almost every step of the way for him all of his life. There are probably many more What if’s that I need to ask myself, as I learn to accept more deeply what is and learn to let go of more things with him.

So what is the missing link to filling that gap? Instead of expecting him to learn to speak ‘our language’ maybe we need to learn to speak his. Why do I think that he’s the one that needs to learn more words and learn to communicate better and adapt to how we speak… why not the other way around.

He’s not asking me to fix anything, he doesn’t look unhappy… so why am I feeling these emotions so intensely?

As I looked at the conscious competence ladder the other day, I reminded myself that I’m already at the second level of this ladder at the conscious incompetence where I know that I don’t know. It means that I’m aware that there is more for me to learn and I don’t know what it is yet and that’s ok. I’m consciously aware that I’m incompetent about this issue. I pray that one day I will have made it to the top of this ladder… where unconsciously I won’t even know that I know how to communicate well with him or even better that I have accepted him exactly as he is with or without different language skills.

I know that I don’t know and don’t have the answers now and can’t seem to be able to sort it out easily. It’s a painful place to have to sit and wait. I want to get to the next place of I know that I know so I can be more at peace. I want to have a greater understanding of my son and probably of myself too. I want to be able to get what he’s trying to tell me and teach me. I want to close that gap, that void. But I also know that I don’t have to wait for anything to happen… I can choose peace at any moment with the situation.

My son has been one of my greatest teachers in life. I feel like I’m his full-time student, one that has had to repeat a few grades along the way just because the lessons have felt challenging for me to learn. One day I want to be able to graduate and know that I have learned all the lessons he came here to teach me. But for now I need to become more attentive so I can learn the lesson well once and for all.

Without a doubt what feels like frustrations today, I know one day I will discover that those were the real treasures in my life. The hardest things in life often become our greatest gifts.

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  1. Hi Suzanne, reading this blog brought a beautiful peaceful smile to my face. As I read it, it seemed that without acknowledging it within yourself, you have already answered your own ”wanting” through expressing you deep inner wisdoms in blogging. Why do you feel the need for clearer communication, when in fact it is already happening, through your heart energy between each other. Where is it written, that every time you feel a ”problem” , that a problem actually exists in the first place? To me as I follow your journey with your son, through your blogs, everything is perfect just as it is. He doesnt seem to feel that he has ”problems” because for his energy, they do not exist. He is who he is, just as you are who you are – both beautiful heart-centred people who are ”perfect” just as you are. Maybe try turning off your logical mind when you are struggling next time with your need of clearer communication and begin to listen to your son through your soul, through your heart – Im sure through doing this you will understand each other with perfect clarity. You may find that you are already living in the next level on your totem pole, without being consciously aware of it.

    • Hi Jill, what a beautiful way that you have shared your thoughts filled with such incredible wisdom. You are so correct it is my logical mind that is causing me to have this struggle within. I will listen to him through my soul… through my heart more. Wouldn’t that be lovely if I was living in the next level of my totem pole without being consciously aware yet. Lovely Jill. Thank you for sharing so beautifully. xo

  2. I am so sorry for the confusion you feel around this. It is very difficult to not feel like we can communicate effectively in any situation and not knowing if that will ever be different would be especially hard. Your son is blessed to have you as a mother..one who cares so much about finding common ground and doing what’s best for him. This is the third time the quote you used has crossed my computer screen today. I’m feeling like there is a special message in it for me…time to ponder. Thank you again for sharing all of who you are with us.
    Michele Bergh recently posted..Discovering Your Creative SideMy Profile

    • There are times when I need to admit my confusion so I can see a way out of it. And this has been one of those times. Having written this post is already bringing clarity for me. Thank you for your lovely and kind words. xo

  3. Suzanne, I can’t imagine not being able to communicate without words with my children…although they probably would both appreciate it more if I didn’t. LOL Praying that you will choose peace. Sometimes, sitting still and waiting is the answer. Just be.
    Karen Stout recently posted..Numbers that don’t add up…My Profile

    • Karen, you are funny about you and your children.

      I never thought of how people communicated a whole lot until I had my son. I probably didn’t even know that some people could not speak or at least never gave it a second thought. At his diagnosis they told us half of the children diagnosed would never speak. Talk about a scary thing to hear. I can’t say that my son fits that group. He has words, probably many words but he can’t use them like we do in conversations. They are linked together however he needs it to be so we can get what he wants and his message across. Thank you for dropping by with a comment and reading through my confusing and rambling thoughts. I want to choose peace and just be with this and see it all as perfect. Thanks!

  4. “The hardest things in life often become our greatest gifts.” …so very true!

    What you have shared here really touched my heart today. I have a nephew who is autistic, and the lessons you point out about the communication have really taught me something important. Next time I see my nephew I will be open to what I can learn from him. I’m grateful to you for sharing these struggles with your son.
    Deborah recently posted..Cedar FallsMy Profile

    • Deborah, I am touched that you got something from what I wrote about. And so happy that you will be open to what your nephew might also be there to teach you. It’s exciting to see that sharing my challenges that it can help someone else. I certainly don’t have it all figured out by what you read. Thanks for sharing.
      Suzanne xo

  5. I love your honesty. This is such a hard space to be in with anything that is important in your life! And even harder to be patient and sit with it until you find peace there. I just love the quote you shared too. Thank you for this, even though our life situations are very differnt, so much of what you described applied to where I’m at in my life. <3
    Sarah Treanor recently posted..Cemetery SongsMy Profile

    • Sarah, I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog post. I’m happy that you loved the quote. Patience and sitting with it… peace will come. And I wish you to find that also in your life.

      I’m so grateful to have connected with you. Your writing through your grief has been profound for me to read. And the same with you, on some levels I am relating about things in my own life through your writing. xo

  6. Dear sister, I personally think you HAVE reached the top of the totem poll – the unconscious competence and that ‘you don’t know that you know’. I am 100% certain of that!! As I read your blog, I can certainly relate to your words. My 17 year old can speak and has the vocabulary but he chooses not to use it or to express himself. I would love to understand him better too but I can’t seem to figure him out. I think we live way too much in our heads instead of our hearts. We put it upon ourselves to try to understand everything about our children and we want to naturally fix what doesn’t work… but as a colleague of mine said today ….”sometimes we just need to let go and accept and let our kids become who they are meant to be. We may not understand them, but maybe it isn’t up to us to understand them.” I always thought we were here as teachers to our children but the older (and wiser) I get, I think you are absolutely correct; we are their students. There is so much we can learn from them, so perhaps we just need to be better students and really listen to them even when words are unspoken. I really enjoyed your blog and your wisdom. Thanks for sharing!

    • You make me laugh sister. I’m far from having reached the top of that ladder. There’s still a lot that I need to learn. Thanks for sharing about your frustrations. I understand what you are saying. It’s not easy like you said even when they can speak but don’t. We have something to learn from our boys. For me learning to let go is a big one that I’m learning to do in baby steps.

      Glad you enjoyed reading the blog post. We’ll get through this with our guys and look back on it one day and laugh at how silly this all was. We will survive and get through this and they will flourish in their own lives. xoxo

  7. Hi Suzanne,

    There are many gifts in Flying Lessons with KRR, though I count finding you and your blog a rare, special gem. I agree with all my heart that children are my best teachers (my blog work is to write little vignettes about them to gain insight).

    I admire your perspective and attitude. I think we could replace the word “autism” with any other challenge (cancer–that’s my current one, loss) and gain encouragement. I do. Your words, “I can choose peace at any moment with the situation” is balm to my heart. Yes, yes, yes.

    Many thanks, and all the best Suzanne–
    Susan Michael Barrett recently posted..My breath comes from my mother’s grandmothers.My Profile

    • Hi Susan, thank you it is so kind of you to share such beautiful compliments with me. 🙂

      I’m very grateful that you were able to get something from my blog post for your current challenge in life. That means so much to me to know that what I shared could be applied to other life challenges that others might be experiencing as well.

      Sending you positive loving healing vibes Susan. May your heart be filled with peace and love.

      Suzanne xo

  8. Another wee snippet! My second son, at the age of 4yrs, was labeled ”borderline autistic”, what ever that still means, I never took the energy to find out. To me, he was simply my son, who view and understood things differently to his siblings, to myself, to our community, yet to me he was ‘complete’ just as he was. We all needed to learn to ‘pause’ before we communicated and socialised with him. As it was, and still is today, he struggles with the understanding and concepts of our complex language. He still needs to have ”all his ducks in a row” at all times, this control is how he can make sense of life around him. The english language, although he can read, write and speak beautifully, is still a mystery to him. When he was young, and to some degree still similar today, he could only understand one instruction at a time, and so many times I would inadvertantly add the extra instruction, ” can you please go to your room and get a jersey”, and in all his ‘being’ he would simply stand looking at me as if I hadnt even spoken. At high school he fortunately was assessed on his school work throughout the year, with no need to sit exams. Although he reads well, he still has no concept of what it is he has read, therefore after reading a question, he would have no idea of what was being asked, so he would gift 200% of his energy and concentration answering what it was he thought the teachers/exam was asking. Everytime he changed class rooms we then had to spend several weeks with his new teacher, basically teaching them how to educate our son! The biggest thing we came up against was all of his teachers would ask him ‘ do you understand what you need to do?” and of course, not really understanding this question in itself, would answer ”yes” to everything. Once they re-adjusted their question to ” what is it you think you need to do?” , they were very quickly aware that he had no idea, so they could then explain it differently to him, until he understood. I too think he is a blessing to all those who are fortunate to connect with him, as he has such great wisdoms to teach us all. To me Shae didnt have problems, he was simply Shae. He has recently turned 20 and now has full time work with pest eradication. We were very blessed that the head person out here in the same organisation knew Shae well and thoroughly recommended him therefore he was able to bypass the interview stage, allowing him to gain employment doing something he absolutely loves! He has been working for this company now for 10months and has already, through his work ethics, committment, enthusiasm and dedication, been promoted to team leader! This brings in itself an array of emotions, from huge gratefulness ( as I did worry that he may never fit into ”working society” ), to being so proud I could burst. At the end of each day, one thing is for sure, Shae will always be Shae, a very beautiful member of life. One last note – I connected with a teacher tree afew years back, and after getting frustrated with their wisdoms shared always ending in a riddle, I asked this awesome tree, ”why do you always end our connection with a riddle?” and his answer was simple ” Listen dear one, if I was to gift your answer to you directly, then how much wisdoms would you have just learnt?”. And of course he was right! It would take me usually a couple of weeks to really resonate with my answer, yet if I had been gifted the answer then how much energy would I have gifted to its wisdoms and lessons – probably very little! Ka kite e hoa – stay strong my friend.
    Jill Tini recently posted..Lorna – WaikatoMy Profile

    • Jill I really appreciated your snippet about your son when he was younger. I love how you embraced fully who he was and worked with him that way as opposed to having him diagnosed. My hat goes off to you and your family. This is incredibly awesome. I love how well he is doing today as a young adult. Thank you for sharing Jill. Blessings. xo

  9. Beautiful, Suzanne. You express some very universal feelings so well. I had never heard of the conscious competence ladder. It is such a good way to understand where we are on our journey. Although, sometimes, the journey is the point not the destination.
    Gail Haile recently posted..Mandala Monday 3My Profile

  10. Dear Suzanne♡
    I hear you loud and clear that you “feel frustrated that you can’t quite grasp how to communicate better with your son… And that … “There’s a gap, a void that’s there”…..that you’re “looking to understand him better”…..

    And your impatient part and your tired part that will “continue until I get it” make sense to me…22 years is a long time to be “trying to figure it all out”….
    I hear your “What if’s…..” as well as learning “to accept more deeply what is…”

    What a beautiful reflecting and unraveling you are doing ♡Suzanne…..what a gift you are to your son that your ♡LOVE for him is so strong and devoted.

    I’ll hold the space of you getting “to the next place of I know that I know so I can be more at peace.”……of you having “a greater understanding of [your] son and probably of [your]self too.”…..That you are getting “what he’s trying to tell me and teach me…” and you have been able “to close that gap, that void…..”
    I’ll imagine you choosing peace♡♥♡
    Thank you for sharing, LOVE and admiration, Susie♡
    Susie recently posted..♥kindred spirits and how imagination can shape who we become…My Profile

    • Hi Susie,
      What a beautiful way you have with words and showing me lovingly with all your little hearts exactly what it is that is in front of me. Like a beautiful mirror gently making me more aware of all that I already know and patiently waiting for what is yet to be revealed and learnt as I go. Beautifully reflected back at me… thank you. xo

  11. Love the totem pole. Powerful.

    I learned somewhere that communication is 10% words, 90% everything else (can’t recall the source). You and I are both learning to read the “everything else” in ways we never thought possible.

    You made some really powerful statements:
    “Why do I think that he’s the one that needs to learn more words and learn to communicate better and adapt to how we speak… why not the other way around.”

    YES! I think that all the time. Who says that the way we do things is the right and only way to do them? Maybe we need to learn to speak with words from the heart instead.

    You also said:
    “What if there was nothing that needed to be fixed? What if he was perfect just the way he is? Who would I be if he no longer needed me?”

    I am learning that our children have chosen us to be their guides. The truth is, you’ve always accepted him the way he his – with nothing needing to be fixed because if you didn’t, he wouldn’t be in your home, under your care! He is indeed perfect and, secretly, he probably doesn’t “need” you in the way you think… but he does need your love and comforting smile and loving home.

    Thanks for this food for thought. I hear you in so many ways.
    Gabriella recently posted..Don’t Call Me ‘Amazing Mother’My Profile

    • Love what you shared Gabriella. There’s so much to learn from our sons. I also have heard about the % with regards to communication. You are giving me something to think about now with this.

      I also realize that there is so much that my son does communicate to me and it’s not always in the form of sentences but instead simple words, and sometimes even when he can’t say it he finds a way to show me, draws it or will write it out. He’s very in tune and senses what people’s energies are like, probably a mile away. He has always known when he wants or doesn’t want to be in someone’s presence. That’s where the other 90% comes in. Now if only I was as good at this as he is… that’s his gift. 🙂

      • Gabriella says:

        That’s just it! We’re so busy using the 10% for communication, we hardly ever tap into the other 90%, which I believe is the most significant, right? The facial expressions, the voice intonation, the gestures, the energies, etc… It’s something to think about when we communicate with all people, not just our non-verbal buddies. I tend to already be thinking about the next thing I want to say based on something a person has said, without taking time to read their true message.

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