Author tells his story of Asperger’s and marriage
By Romi Herron For Sun-Times Media September 24, 2013 9:26AM
David and Kristen Finch | Submitted
While it was David Finch’s quirkiness that drew his wife Kristen to fall in love with him, those very quirks took such a toll on the couple’s marriage, they almost didn’t make it, he says.
His quest to be her worthy husband sent him on a journey, and a diagnosis with Asperger’s Syndrome was the first step. The McHenry author will discuss his experiences and his New York Times best-selling book, “The Journal of Best Practices,” at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Bartlett Public Library.
“It was not until I was an adult, with an adult life, having to provide for a family, having to navigate through a schedule that wasn’t my own, when it started to become apparent that some things were going to be extra difficult for me,” said Finch, whose dedication to self-improvement inspired him to pen the book. “People assume the book is a story about Asperger’s, but really it’s about being a better husband.”
A mild form of Autism Spectrum disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome affected Finch with behavioral traits that included rigid thinking, sensitivity to change, an extreme need for physical space at times, and obsessive-compulsive elements, too.
Prior to marriage and parenthood, Finch’s coping mechanisms were enough for him to get through daily life with less difficulty, he said.
“Growing up, I used humor to get by socially, and I think that is a sentiment in the Asperger community,” he explained. “We are able to get by, but by engaging a great deal of effort to make those social interactions go well.”
Through the dating era with Kristen, life was enjoyable, he said. Since they lived apart, he had privacy and space. But when they co-habitated, his need for alone time became more severe.
“When I had my own place, I could be my Grinch self,” he said. “Then we moved in together, and I didn’t have my own quarters to retreat to ... to hide the difficult moments.”
Finch described “a downward spiral” for the first five years of their marriage.
“Things had gotten so bad we didn’t even feel like friends anymore,” he said.
A former semiconductor engineer, the father of two says his wife’s experience working with children with Asperger’s Syndrome actually paved the way to answers.
A speech pathologist, she noticed similarities between her husband and the fathers of the children with Asperger.
The couple sought an assessment for Finch, and he described the diagnosis as “a watershed moment.”
“I looked at it like, ‘Oh this answers a lot of unanswered questions,’ ” said Finch. “I pieced it together and said I can learn to address these behaviors on my own, and hopefully the outcome would be that I would be a better husband and a better dad.”
He wrote down qualities such as being a better listener, and paying attention to housekeeping, in a notebook. His agent and publisher added a subtitle, and the book became “The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to be a Better Husband.”
The Finches have had a good deal of media exposure, profiled on NBC’s “Rock Center” with Brian Williams, CBS’ “The Jeff Probst show” and locally on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight,” ABC’s “Windy City Live,” and NPR’s “This American Life,” and featured in newspaper and magazine articles. Those opportunities, and about 90 speaking engagements since 2010, have enabled Finch to raise awareness on life with Asperger’s Syndrome.
“I have been able to speak and share my story in a way I didn’t expect, and that’s cool,” said Finch. “To speak to an auditorium full of kids and know that one out of 50 of those can identify with exactly what I’m talking about but was never really able to discuss it with anybody is really cool. You can see their attitudes changing.”
More information about the speaking engagement is available at www.bartlettlibrary.org.