Best Practices: How Asperger’s Changed a Marriage

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For David Finch, a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome changed his marriage—for the better. There was finally an explanation as to why he often didn’t empathize with his wife, Kristen, and why he had such a rigid morning routine. These types of behaviors are part of the disorder, marked by an impairment in social interaction.

Finch’s book, The Journal of Best Practices, details his relationship with Kristen and the “best practices” to navigate a marriage when Asperger’s is involved. He joins us on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm.

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Two out of every 10,000 children reportedly has Asperger’s syndrome, according to the National Institutes of Health, with boys having a higher prevalence than girls.

For more insight into Asperger’s syndrome, Chicago Tonight spoke with Breeda McGrath, Associate Professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Excerpts:

What is Asperger’s syndrome in layman’s terms?

Asperger’s syndrome is essentially an impairment in social interaction. It’s the most obvious marker. People with Asperger’s also have repetitive, restrictive, stereotypical patterns of behavior. This is an activity or interest that seems excessive. For example, I worked with a student who had a very strong intense interest in the Amish community, and another whose interest was in airplane safety instruction cards. For some people, there are particular patterns of behavior. The key then, when we’re talking about a diagnosis and calling it a disorder, is that there is an impairment in functioning. Until it starts to restrict normal development and functioning, you don’t call it a disorder.

Is it common to be diagnosed later in life like author David Finch?

It’s not that common, but it’s not unusual. I think what has happened with a lot of adults is they found a niche for themselves—whether through computer science or a tech field—and they’ve been in a supportive family. A lot of it depends on the culture of the family as to whether they’re open to a diagnosis. Now that Asperger’s is better understood, you’ll find more people [who identify with it]. The impact of a diagnosis in adulthood, I believe, is less severe than the stigma that you’ll find attached to a child diagnosis because the adult has already proven themselves. However, with a child, it’s much more frightening to give a child its diagnosis because you’re predicting future failure. It doesn’t completely define the person in the same way.

Why do you think David Finch may not have been diagnosed until he was an adult?

Asperger’s was only coined in the early 80’s, so it’s really not that old of a diagnosis, whereas autism is older than that. But one of the reasons that he wouldn’t have been aware or diagnosed is that there is no cognitive impairment. Most of these children are very bright. When you’re looking at a child, intellectually, they’re okay; we tend to get more worried about intellect than social functioning. You’ve got more flexibility in your social interaction than intellectual development.

What is the relationship between Asperger’s and Autism?

Some people believe Asperger’s is on the Autism spectrum, and others don’t. I don’t sit in either camp. To me, my conversation is always about the specific individual we’re talking about. There are commonalities between Asperger’s and Autism—the social functioning is the most severely impacted prospect. But people with Autism and Asperger’s have difficulty putting themselves in other people’s shoes. They have trouble understanding other’s perspective. From my experience, the most success I’ve had working with children in Autism and Asperger’s is to understand their framework and how they perceive things. Another thing that distinguishes Asperger’s from Autism is that it’s nowhere near as severe. Children with Aspeger’s generally don’t have a delay in languages. By the time they hit three they’re speaking very well.

What is the prognosis like?David's family. Wife, Kristen; son, Parker; and daughter, Emily.

It is a life-long way of being, I suppose, but the prognosis depends on their adaptability and their social skills. Children with Asperger’s tend to have problems beginning in middle school, whereas children with Autism have problems more right away. People with Asperger’s are often very bright. They are generally academically extremely bright. A lot of kids with Asperger’s don’t go to school because they need academics; they go because they need socialization

This interview has been condensed and edited.

David Finch joins us on Chicago Tonight, at 7pm to talk more about his book and how a diagnosis Asperger's helped his marriage.

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