David Finch on his wife, Asperger’s Syndrome and their Marriage being saved
It wasn’t working, any of it. Our third year of marriage threatened to be our last. I’d become cynical and withdrawn, obsessive and preoccupied, dismissive and unhelpful.
“I don’t know when things got bad,” Kristen said, wiping away tears. “I feel like I’ve lost you and I don’t know what will bring you back.”
In reality she hadn’t lost me. She’d found me. The facade of semi-normalcy I’d struggled to maintain was falling away, revealing the person I’d been since childhood. I didn’t even know what was wrong with me, though my wife, a speech pathologist who works with autistic children, had her suspicions. Even so, it would be another two years before she would put all the pieces together and attach a name to what was ruining our marriage: Asperger’s syndrome....
Read it all. Some of you may recognize that this was used by yours truly in a recent sermon--a great story--KSH
Filed under: * Culture-Watch
Health & Medicine
Marriage & Family
Posted October 11, 2012 at 6:00 am
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The URL for this article is http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/article/45421/
1. Sarah wrote:
RE: “Many of us who have the disorder, identified by the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger in 1944, could probably pass for normal if it weren’t for three defining characteristics: egocentricity, odd and sometimes repetitive behaviors, and an obsession with a special interest.”
That’s it—a “syndrome” for two character disorders and OCD.
We know this because he admits—twice—that he was able to control the behaviors when he wanted to impress somebody—that is, his future wife.
“What I needed initially were communication skills and a sense of empathy, neither of which, in my case, had been factory-installed. Fortunately, I was living with a highly qualified therapist with a strong motivation to help. Her objective: re-invent our marriage. Her first mission: figure out how to get me to communicate.
I know: a lot of husbands could use a lesson in this, right? For us, however, this went way beyond the typical husband/wife dynamic. Whenever my routine got disrupted, or I was made to do something that didn’t interest me, I would shut down, unable to engage in any constructive way. . . . Acquiring empathy seemed a taller order, given that my Aspergerish point of reference is myself in every circumstance.”
Another name for this is “Small Child Disorder” which all of us experience as well.
I don’t like my routine to get disrupted—I’m selfish that way—and a “sense of empathy” is not “factory-installed” in a lot of people. That’s what parents are for. And yes, I like my “point of reference” to be me, too—and I’d like to talk about all my hobbies to other people and force them to pretend to listen, as well.
It doesn’t trouble me that a spouse talks about how his wife helped him to overcome his egocentricity and selfishness and lack of empathy—the things he needed to acquire as a child but which his parents failed to give him—as well as helped him to acquire a few social skills. That’s a good thing, and I appreciate that.
What bothers me is that now some basic character and behavioral sins [that’s what we call them] have been classified and labelled for him as a “syndrome” that we must all now think of as a “disability”—maybe even one that can get him extra time on tests, and some SS disability, if we work it right, as well as a category under the ADA so that workplaces have to modify their whole lives for his behavior.
It’s just very very very very old at this point.
October 11, 10:55 am | [comment link]
2. stevejax wrote:
Sarah—you obviously speak of which you do not understand. My middle son is on the Asperger’s Spectrum. This is not nurture.. as you suggest. Nor is it a combination of other “character disorders”. Your belittling tone towards the author, and others who suffer from this condition, is very disheartening and ungracious.
October 11, 1:03 pm | [comment link]
4. Barbara Gauthier wrote:
I also have a son with Asperger’s. He was wired differently from his other two brothers from the time he was born. He did not speak until he was 4 although he somehow taught himself to read English fluently when he was 27 months old. The primary way he communicated was through the written word. Only gradually did he acquire verbal language skills. His brain apparently processes all language the way adults process foreign languages. He did not have a “mother tongue” and basically learned English as his first foreign language. He is now fluent in both English and Spanish, scoring 5 on both the English and the Spanish AP exams.
He has had to learn social skills very intentionally because he cannot naturally pick up the non-verbal social cues that most children have mastered by the time they are two or three. He was very involved with various student groups in high school although he never developed any close friendships. He was nearly 20 before he finally mastered the social rhythm of listening/speaking that is essential to natural conversation. He began asking other people questions about what they thought or how they felt. This was a huge milestone for him.
He is now a first-year grad student in math at Princeton and is adapting far more easily than I ever thought possible. (Researchers estimate that upwards of 90% of university math professors have some Asperger’s characteristics—the quintessential absent-minded math professor!). He told me last week that he had decided to join the church choir and had been asked to be part of the men’s fellowship group. He is trying to make social connections with other students for the first time.
We’ve found an analogy very useful in helping people understand the limitations and strengths of Asperger’s (and yes, there are strengths, profound strengths). Most people are like incandescent light bulbs, that shed a uniform light all around them. Asperger’s individuals are like lasers, which focus extremely intently on a very small area and shed very little if any peripheral light around them. My son’s strength in upper level math is definitely related to his God-given ability to concentrate intensely for long periods of time on something of great interest to him.
We love him. He is fun and witty and honest as the day is long. We appreciate deeply the strengths that he has and we continue to encourage him on fine-tuning needed coping skills in the social areas of his life, just as the article above describes so eloquently.
October 11, 7:24 pm | [comment link]
5. Mark Baddeley wrote:
Thanks for the link Kendall, it does fill the picture out even further. But I think the NYTimes article gives enough information to enable the reader to see that #1’s comments are completely offbase:
First she allowed me to complete my 8:30 p.m. routine, fully aware of how essential it is to my peace of mind: circle the downstairs, note which lights are on, and stare out the front window, visually lining up the neighbors’ rooftops.
Do you rock back and forth or side to side for comfort, to calm yourself, when excited or overstimulated? Where’s the hidden camera?
Do you get frustrated if you can’t sit in your favorite seat? Friendships have ended over this.
As I exited yet another gas station without getting gas, she asked, “Because it has an odd number of pumps?”
Does any of that sound like standard sinful egocentricity in a functioning adult?
The comments were made by just handwaving away the OCD elements of the report as tangential to the diagnosis, thus the whole matrix could be then attacked as ‘Small Child Disorder’ - just standard sinfulness.
October 11, 9:26 pm | [comment link]
6. Sarah wrote:
RE: “Does any of that sound like standard sinful egocentricity in a functioning adult?”
Nope—it sounds like OCD—not “tangential” at all.
And no, “the whole matrix” could not then be “attacked as ‘Small Child Disorder’”—I was quite specific about what parts were “Small Child Disorder”—and we are all afflicted with “Small Child Disorder.” I did not at all include OCD under “Small Child Disorder”—I was very clear, which tells me that somebody actually didn’t agree with the principle that I stated—which is certainly fine, but please don’t accuse me of saying what I didn’t say.
Making everything into a “syndrome” and thus a diagnosed-disability is what I protest against.
And further—when did sinful behavior become something that nobody can feel sympathetic towards? Why must a cluster of character disorders perforce be a “diagnosed illness” before people can be gracious?
My ungraciousness was not towards the author’s actions—my ungraciousness was towards the ridiculous “diagnosis”—diagnoses of various “syndromes” which many physicians see with increasing and strengthening frequency and must perforce medicate, cure, and enable with further furrowed brows and concerned looks.
Why must we only be allowed to furrow the brow and issue the concern when it’s an illness? Why can’t we show the concern when it’s a cluster of OCD and character disorders? It sounds as if his wife has been most gracious and kind with somebody who has taken a very very long time to grow up. That is a good thing—and his gratefulness for her care is also a good thing.
I have known many people with the non-OCD behaviors that this man describes. They are very painful conditions, and the people are deeply lonely—such actions create and further isolation, which means people then are even less able to develop the skills this man is developing, and that he should have developed when he was younger.
So yes—I heartily disagree with precisely the same thing that I stated in my first comment as my disagreement, which was particularly stated.
October 12, 10:47 pm | [comment link]
7. Sarah wrote:
I should add that, even sadder to me is that people who are functioning—even high-functioning, with work and relationships and hobbies—now get to be “classified” as disabled and handicapped, with a real live “disorder.” It’s as if nobody is allowed to just be different from other people, or have common everyday sins, unless it’s nicely labeled as a Terrible Disability With A Proper Medical Name For It [and of course, a good Washington DC lobbying group too].
I myself have a terrible condition called mythophobia that, coupled with my kainophobia and a touch of OCD, has caused me to be perceived as “ungracious” and “belittling” on this very thread, when in reality it is merely my cluster of special, unique disorders that has left that erroneous impression.
I have not yet received empathy for this merely because—so far—no one has yet publicized this rare cluster of syndromes to the appropriate people in order to get it properly acknowledged and its research and rehab funded.
October 12, 11:04 pm | [comment link]
© 2013 Kendall S. Harmon. All rights reserved.
For original material from Titusonenine (such as articles and commentary by Dr. Harmon) permission to copy and distribute free of charge is granted, provided this notice, the logo, and the web site address are visible on all copies. For permission for use in for-profit publications, please email KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com
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