I enjoyed this week’s episode of This American Life, which included the story of David Finch who recently authored a book called The Journal of Best Practices, about his coming to terms with his late-discovered diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome, and how he learned to compensate for his social incongruencies and emotional deficits within his marriage.
As is often the case, the receiving of this disease label (or so-called diagnosis) actually provided a great relief to the couple, who had been struggling in their relationship without having a framework for what the issues were. Some of the typical complaints by women about their husbands are multiplied that much more in this condition, which is defined in terms of an absence of basic social skills, including a feeling and expression of empathy, as well as basic interpersonal skills.
He describes the elaborate efforts he went to in order to learn how to behave in more socially acceptable ways, and ultimately mimic the behaviors of empathy and compassion, but without actually being able to feel them himself. He spent a long time, for example, studying David Letterman and Howard Stern, in order to learn how small talk was supposed to work. He would note everything down, such as “Remember not to change the radio stations while Kristen is singing along”. While some of this narrative was humorous, I also felt the sadness of this situation, in the fact that since a true process of diagnosis was not being engaged in, the true roots of the disease(s) were not being addressed, and he is in effect condemned to live in this well-decorated jail cell aka a “condition label”.
This hit home when he described how he’s gotten to the point of being able to display empathy with his wife, or at least the outer behaviour of empathy — he doesn’t actually posses the inner feeling. This is precisely where a true diagnosis would lead to a deeper treatment, and actually address such emotional impairments, rather than just changing the outer behaviour. “Aspergers” is a condition label which hides more than it reveals, and these emotional roots behind his condition would be much more beneficial in the long run to be the focus of his treatment. Compensation is not cure, and the more accurate the diagnosis in each individual case, the better will be the choice of treatment.