autistic (meta-)communication

Autistic (meta-)communication

I’m autistic.

Do you want to know why I refer to myself as having a communication difference, rather than a communication deficit?
It’s because the way I communicate is different, not deficient.
Let me explain.

By: BRI, 2021

See, when I talk to Jack, the intent behind my communication is usually the literal, donotative* meaning of what I’ve said.

I usually mean what I say!

But Jack is neurotypical, so he automatically picks up on a lot of layers of tacit metacommunications* that I don’t always register.

denotative: explicit or direct meaning

metacommunication: secondary communication (including indirect cues) about how a piece of information is meant to be interpreted. Includes; denotative meaning; connotative meanings; paralinguistics; metalinguistics; tone of voice; facial expression; body language; proxemics; eye contact

Or, I do pick up on them, but tend to value the literal content of what has been said over other cues.

But interpreting these other cues can change the meaning of what I said. Jack and I have a mismatch in the way we express and interpret communications.
I “put out” the literal content of my statement.
Jack interprets my statement on many levels, even though I only gave him one level of information.
So quite often, Jack can miss what it was I was saying!
And he then responds, using several layers of information, and I mostly value the literal content of what was said, even though the meaning could be changed by the other layers of information.

By this point, we have both misunderstoof the other.
“Hey Jack, what grade did you get in that test?”
I express: denotive meaning.

I mean: what grade did you get in the test?

He interprets many levels of information, which may conflict with the literal meaning of what I am saying.

For example, he might interpret this as my bragging that I have a high grade and am trying to find out his grade in order to mock him.

Misunderstandings happen just as easily in the other direction. For example…
Jack: Hey, have you seen my coat?
Thinking: Yes, of course i have seen jacks coat. he always wears the same purple coat.
Me: Yup.
Jack: *sigh* Why are you like this?
Me: ???

Jack was communicating with me on many levels, but I was only interpreting one level. What Jack was trying to communicate that he had lost his coat, and wanted to know if I knew where it was, and maybe have my help to find it.
I primarily focused on the literal meaning of what he said: had I seen his coat. I had seen his coat, so I told him that. He assumed that I had picked up on all his other layers of communication, that I knew what he was “really” asking, and being deliberately difficult. That’s where we had the misunderstanding.

However, I don’t think that us operating on different levels means that I have a deficit. Because actually, when I communicate with others who communicate in the same way as me, we have far fewer misunderstandings.

When I talk to other autistic people, we tend to understand each other! Because we are operating in the same ways, so we understand one another. In the same way, two neurotypical people understand each other, because they are also operating using the same levels.

I don’t see this as a deficit because I am equally able to transmit information and build rapport as neurotypical people.

So, when I tell you what I mean, don’t try and interpret something else!

I do not use the same layers in my communication as you.

Leave a Reply