As my kids have grown, and as I have witnessed their communication methods and communication abilities growing and morphing and changing and developing, I have come to understand the concept of what I call a ‘communication short cut.’ I have dedicated this post to describing this concept.
A communication short cut can be described as when a person, for any reason, takes a short cut with their communication in order to achieve a desired result. All communication serves a purpose – it is the very essence of, and definition of, communication. And so, a communication short cut is an example of someone harnessing the entity of communication, and using it skillfully in a way that is an attempt to achieve a desired result. It would be considered a shot cut when considering socially typical ways of communicating.In my own experiences as a parent, my autistic children have very often used communication short cuts. This has usually been because specific kinds of communication, expression, or interaction, are difficult or out of reach. In my experiences, this has been mainly the nuances, the deeper and more complex explanations, the feelings that are hard to articulate or that are perhaps not yet understood by oneself, even the kinds of understandings that are forming at a subconscious level but that haven’t yet reached the level of being explainable. When I learned a second language (through audio submersion), there was a stage just before I became able to speak it, in which I could understand speech and grasp (in my mind only) how to use it – but I wasn’t quite there yet, in terms of being able to use those understandings to communicate at a complex level with others around me. I feel that, as our children acquire the ability of complex communication (in whatever form that takes) they will be on a learning path, and there will be various ways that they use communication along that path.
An example of a communication short cut is this – if there is a certain sensory experience for a kid who gets scared or experiences discomfort or distress in some way, who isn’t being harmed (in the sense of pain or possible injury) but who really strongly doesn’t like something, that child could say “I don’t know why but this experience is something I don’t like; something that causes me distress and something I would avoid if I were more in control of my own life”, which would then elicit questions or confusion or even a lack of acceptance of that explanation – and that is assuming that the child has even been able to come up with that explanation. So, an easier way which would have the same desired outcome of the child not having to experience that particular sensory thing anymore, might be “ouch” or “that hurts me.”
The response of “that hurts me” wasn’t necessarily true, but it did mean the same thing – “I want you to stop”/”I want this to stop”, and it would get the same response as wanted, which was to stop. So, a communication short cut is a natural kind of social thing that many people would use if they needed to.
Another example might be a child experiencing a range of complex and confusing emotions, such as anxiety, exclusion/rejection, confusion, disappointment, depression, fear, shock, or any other such emotion. This child might want to be alone to think about whatever happened, or to have down time. However, perhaps the child does not have the vocabulary, or the ability, to communicate this to a caregiver. If a caregiver then insisted on the child talking about his/her emotions, demanded a reason for some behaviour, or if the caregiver wanted to take the child out to a party/the movies/a park/some other place the child doesn’t feel like going to; the child might see it as necessary to say something like, “I am sad”, or “I feel angry”, or “I am tired.” Really, none of those statements is precisely true in the sense that will likely be perceived in hearing those words. But that does not mean that this need being expressed – to stay home and be left alone – isn’t legitimate.
Other kinds of communication short cuts could be facial expressions and other unspoken means of communicating. I have seen children for instance, make a deliberate (often apparently exaggerated!) sad face (meaning, positioning their own face into a reflection of a recognised expression of ‘sad’) and show people this sad face. This isn’t any less legitimate than speaking the words “I’m sad” or “that makes me feel sad”.An acceptance of communication short cuts really means an acceptance of communication in itself. I think that communication short cuts would be in the communication toolboxes of many neurodivergent people.