Jim Fleming: What would you do if you barely talked to the man you married five years ago? If you found his quirks and weird obsessions so annoying you really didn't want to live with him anymore? Kristen Finch hit on an ingenious idea. She asked her husband David to take a test, a quiz, with 153 questions that led to a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. Dave Finch tells the story in his memoir, "The Journal of Best Practices". Dave and Kristen Finch came into the studio to tell me how the diagnosis changed their lives. First, I wanted to know about that night when Dave took the quiz.
David Finch: Kristen came up to me in the kitchen and she gave me a big hug and at that point in our marriage we had been married about five years. We had certainly grown apart from one another, our marriage was more or less falling apart, I mean, it was, uh, we didn't feel like we were a married couple, we didn't feel like we were friends and so for her to come and give me a hug was actually a pretty big deal. And she said "Why don't you come down to the basement? There's something I want to show you." So I said "Okay." I just pretty much do whatever I'm told. So, I went down to the basement with her in her office. She's a, Kristen's a speech therapist, she had been working with children with autism and around that time one of the families had asked her if she could try to find some, like, online diagnostic evaluation resources to help determine if their kids had Asperger's before they engaged a doctor and a therapist and everything. And so she said, "Sure!" and she stumbled upon this thing called the Aspie quiz. It was 153 questions designed to tell you whether or not you are a likely candidate, if you fit the profile.
Fleming: Actually I'm going to interrupt for just a moment cause I want to ask Kristen where you were at that moment, did you realize what you were about to do?
Kristen Finch: A little bit. I had just stumbled upon this quiz and I had started going through each question and each question I just kept saying, "Ah! That's Dave. Oh my gosh, that's Dave, too! Oh my gosh, that's Dave, too." It's just everyone I just kept thinking, 'Wait a second, I've missed something.' That was kind of my aha moment, I guess, where I was like 'Wait, I've missed something here.' There's a reason behind, you know, things kind of falling apart, there's a reason behind all the difficulty we're having in our marriage, I think. But even then it still wasn't until I brought him down to go through the questions--and I didn't tell him what the quiz was, I just started asking him these questions and there was a lot of things that I still didn't know, for example, I didn't realize, I knew social situations, he didn't enjoy, I knew he didn't like going to barbecues or, you know, parties or anything. But, I had no idea that it wasn't that he didn't want to, it was that he was so uncomfortable and you know, it was so unpredictable, that he just couldn't do those situations, comfortably.
Fleming: Let's back up a minute. Dave, back to that moment after the hug, when you were asked to go to the basement, first you had to run through your evening routine?
D. Finch: Yeah, it was very important to me. Each evening, what I would do is I would, uh, circle around and I would start in the kitchen and I'd go counterclockwise throughout the house just looking to try to see which lights were on and I've got a little sequence that I go through and then I, I look out the front windows, I line up the neighbors' rooftops because visually it's just very satisfying to see the alignment the same way every time and it helps me to just kind of relax and know that everything's right with the universe, the sky's maybe not gonna fall in tonight. So she let me do that, she's like, "Listen, when you finish, you know, why don't you come down and join me?" and I did.
Fleming: Then the questions begin.
D. Finch: It was 153 of these, though, and it was just like Kristen said, one after another, and she kept saying to herself, 'That's Dave, that's Dave.' And I kept saying, "Oh my gosh, this is me!" Like, how do they know this about me?
Fleming: What kind of questions was she asking you?
D. Finch: There were questions like, "Do you find it vitally important to remain undisturbed when you are focusing on your special interests?" You know, "Do you need long periods of contemplation?" "Do you find it difficult to understand the social rules of engagement?" "Do you sometimes feel like you're playing a game, like, pretending to be like the people around you just to fit in better?" "Do you find it's easier to socialize when you have a clear picture in your head of what's going to transpire?" Or, "Is it easier for you to socialize if you can script out your potential conversations in advance?" And it's all these things, these little tricks that I had always done, and then there were other random, just ridiculous things, that I don't think would indicate Asperger's and I'm not sure why they're in there, but I even had to answer 'yes' to those. Like, "Have you ever been fascinated by making traps?" Like, well, I hate to admit this, but yes. I have been. And there was another one. Oh! "Do you sometimes have an urge to jump over things?" And it's like, "Yeah, who doesn't?" and Kristen's like, "I don't usually have an urge to jump over things." Yeah, all right.
Fleming: Was that, Kristen, when, was it that kind of question that gave you a hint that there were differences? Maybe that's why they're in there, I don't know.
K. Finch: Yeah, and the trap-making one I thought had to have been a typo, you know, but when he answered "yes" I was like, "Wait a second, what?"
D. Finch: I received a real nice email from a guy in Wisconsin, by the way, who, as an adult, just received a diagnosis, emailed me and said "I also am just completely obsessed with traps."
K. Finch: And I've heard that at book signings several times now.
D. Finch: So I don't know, maybe we're natural born trappers.
Fleming: And you jump over things. For you, Kristen, by this time, you were, in a sense, expecting the answers that you were getting. Dave, you went into this not knowing, and then all of a sudden hearing the yes answers to all of these questions, what did it feel like?
D. Finch: It felt like pure discovery. You know a lot of people ask me, "That must have been horrifying, terrifying to find out that, you know, you received this diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum condition," and it wasn't like that at all. I had been living with this my whole life, I just didn't know it had a name. What I like to say is that it was almost like I was receiving a user manual for myself and I finally, and Kristen got a user manual for her husband, which is infinitely valuable in any relationship.
Fleming: But that night, you did say at one point during the series of questions, you started crying. Was it crying from relief?
D. Finch: It was, it was, relief is maybe a good word, and it was also this sense of discovery, like um-
K. Finch: And maybe not aloneness. All of a sudden he wasn't the only one who felt these things.
D. Finch: And being able to admit these things to Kristen is where the relief came in because we had never had this kind of discussion at this level before of the sorts of things that were a challenge for me and finally just getting all this off my chest and having her understand, "This is what your reality has been? I had no idea," and now we're connecting and relating in a way that we had never done before and it felt cathartic.
Fleming: And for you, Kristen, is that an honest description of the way you felt that night?
K. Finch: Yes, I felt almost a relief because I knew then that I could work with this. He's just wired differently, so I, it gave me my patience back, getting that diagnosis. All of a sudden it was like, "Okay, he's not doing these things purposely to hurt my feelings, he's not doing things just in spite of me, and now I can approach things differently.
Fleming: So, you've had the diagnosis, but as you write somewhere in the book, "Diagnosis is not a cure. You don't just say Aha! Okay everything's now fine."
D. Finch: No, not at all, it's a starting point. Now, Kristen was willing to say, "Oh, my husband has Asperger's, I can manage this marriage now, I understand how he is wired." And what I said was, "Well, I'd like to go one step further." I know that there are behaviors that are limiting my life. So what I wanted to do was learn how to, if not develop some sense of empathy, then at least compensate for that with a lot of awareness and checking in and asking how Kristen was doing. And she was willing to be my guide to the neurotypical world, which is a tall order for anybody, you know especially your wife, who, herself, just wanted downtime sometimes and just wanted to watch TV.
K. Finch: Yes, yes. I was still just trying to live my life, get the kids to school, make dinner, you know, those kinds of things.
Fleming: You know what we haven't talked about at all, is that you have two children in this mix. This isn't just the two of you, you had two other people that had to find their way into this. Has that been difficult?
D. Finch: I can't speak for them, you know, they're six and four now and the time that I was diagnosed they were two and one. I really had to learn how to be a better dad, too, you know, a lot of parents just seem to know how to do it, you know and I see moms and dads at the parks or in restaurants, it's just all kind of very casual, informal. I knew how to interact with adults. I'd spent 30 years figuring out those little tricks, I had never really thought about how I might interact with kids who can't really express themselves. So, it was difficult at first, but again, Kristen helped me to understand the perspective of a two and a one-year-old. You know, she explained I couldn't sit there and deliver these didactic lectures on poor decision-making whenever they make a bad choice, you set them in time-out for a minute and then it's over. There was a lot of learning on my end, but the great thing about kids is that they're just infinitely forgiving. You get, like, this infinite number of chances to do right by them, and so, you know, I started taking advantage of those chances to do better.
Fleming: Kristen you're the one who started this in a sense, you found the way in, do you have any advice for other couples who might find themselves in a similar situation?
K. Finch: I think it would just be most of all to learn how the other person works, and find ways to meet in the middle, so it is a matter of checking in and saying, "Social situations are difficult, I don't want to go to this party, but the reason why is because it's unpredictable, I don't know when we're going to get there, I don't know when it's going to end." And so, my way of helping that is to give him that structure, "Here's when it's going to start, here's what we're going to do, here's when it's going to end." So, instead of it being you know, "I don't want to go to this party? Like, ugh you never want to do anything that I want to do." Instead of going there, it's we're very, very different in this aspect, let's meet in the middle and figure out how we can make it work and then do the work. It's a lot of work for any marriage, let alone a neurotypical-Asperger mixed marriage, a relationship that is two very differently wired people.
Fleming: That's Kristen and David Finch. Dave's memoir is called "The Journal of Best Practices".