the journal of best practices: it’s not asshole disease

arguably the most exciting thing about this book, for me, is that it’s a memoir by a guy who diagnosed himself with asperger’s syndrome using an internet quiz. this is something i joke about all the time! i used to be a member of this online feminist community, & one of the most annoying members in the community had diagnosed herself with asperger’s using an internet quiz. every time she got called out for saying something stupid, she was always like, “stop being mean! the internet says i’m neuroatypical!” my favorite was the time she wrote a long, gushing post about how she helped deliver her friend’s baby because the birth clinic the friend had intended to use was closed for the weekend. yes. i forgot about how birth clinics maintain 9am-5pm monday-friday hours & all the women that go into labor on evenings or weekends get stuck doing unintentional home births with no one to help them out except for their bedraggled hippie friends. she also posted about food not bombs all the time & was like, “hey guys! there’s this awesome organization that feeds homeless people using dumpstered goods! maybe you’ve heard of them but i don’t know because they’re pretty underground & obscure. they’re called food not bombs. i think they’ve only been around for like 35 years or so.” that girl was so obnoxious that diagnosing yourself with asperger’s via an internet quiz couldn’t help but become a joke.

i wonder how ol’ david finch here feels about the fact that his book was released the same month as the news that autism is being wildly overdiagnosed these days became front page news from coast to coast? especially in light of how the book is all about how his marriage was teetering on the brink of collapse until he realized that he was autistic, & then he & his wife worked together to help him learn how to behave in more socially acceptable/neurotypical ways (even if he was just playacting his way through it).

i guess i should also note that after the internet told him he was autistic, he saw a doctor who confirmed the diagnosis. but, you know, doctors are the ones behind the over-diagnosing epidemic…i’m not saying this dude isn’t actually autistic, but a lot of shit he writes about in the book sounded more like a dude that is kind of socially inept, a little bit self-centered, & goofy, & less like a dude that is autistic. then again, i’m not an occupational therapist, so maybe i don’t know what the hell i’m talking about.

i kind of feel bad for the dude’s family. someday his kids are going to be old enough to read the book & finch doesn’t really come off as a great, involved dad. though i guess by the time his kids are old enough to read & understand the book, they’ll probably have already caught on to that fact. finch writes about how part of being autistic is that he is very obsessive about his daily routines. his morning routine involves getting up a full hour after his wife gets up with the kids, having a glass of water, downing some vitamins, & luxuriating in a hot shower for at least an hour. meanwhile, his wife is getting the kids dressed & fed & ready for the babysitter, while also getting herself dressed & ready for work, trying to fit in some bathroom time in between the dude’s crazy shower schedule…so he decided that it would be a nice husband thing to do if he got up earlier & took over some of the child care duties. this involved running off to the bathroom to check in with his wife about every little thing the kids needed. he seriously asked her if the kids were allowed to have juice after they requested juice. he asked if the little girl was allowed to wear the dress she had requested. once the kids finished breakfast, he plopped them down in their pajamas in front of the TV rather than getting them dressed & ready to go to the babysitter’s house. not exactly what i would call helpful, you know?

which he acknowledges. but rather than being amused by the foibles of this clueless dad, i instead felt sad. his older kid is like four years old. how does a person share his home with a child for four years without having any awareness of whether or not it’s okay for that four-year-old to have some morning OJ? it sounds like the dude has been completely checked out, & while a disability will certainly do that to a person, it still made me feel sad for everyone involved. but the way the book was written, i didn’t get the sense that i was supposed to feel sad. i got the sense that i was supposed to be chuckling & enjoying the hijinks.

he also writes a lot about how he brought a lot of pre-conceived ideas about gender into his marriage. he assumed that his wife would do the lion’s share of the child care & enjoy every second of it. he also assumed that she would take on most, if not all, of the housework, leaving him free to pursue his busy schedule of hour-long showers & nightly wanderings around the house to make sure all the lights are off. this, despite the fact that both he & his wife work. he would even have the gall to suggest that “we make an effort to keep up with the chores” when the laundry was washed & dried, but not yet put away, & to compare his wife unfavorably to the stay-at-home mom next door who always manages to have fresh cookies baked & a pork loin ready for dinner. he seems to be implying that his autism was somehow responsible for these sexist ideas–that this is how his parents’ relationship functioned, so it became a routine in his life that he expected his wife to maintain.

i was reminded of an incident a few years ago in which i volunteered at an anarchist bookstore with a woman who was being stalked. the bookstore was contemplating the possibility of banning the stalker from the space for, you know, stalking & terrorizing one of the volunteers. he explained to a couple of other volunteers that he didn’t mean to scare the woman; he was autistic & not great with social cues & thought he was just flirting. my response was, “it’s autism. it’s not Asshole Disease.” since when does atypical neurological functioning make it okay to be a fucking misogynist?

& granted, finch does acknowledge his sexism & begins making an effort to change it. it’s just amazing that his marriage lasted as long as it has, you know? long enough that he could begin the process of transformation & write this book. i wish him & his family the best of luck, but i am legitimately concerned that other people will read this book, diagnose themselves with autism on the internet, & use it as an excuse to behave selfishly.

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

2 thoughts on “the journal of best practices: it’s not asshole disease

  1. They say if you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism. I know this is true, but I’m skeptical about this author. I found a video of him speaking online to a church (no comment), and I’m surprised he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. I work with people on the spectrum, and he does not display (at least in that video) any of the Part I criteria of the DSM-IV criteria for AS, which includes major social impairments. I know I shouldn’t play armchair psychiatrist, but I wonder if he should have been diagnosed with OCD or something else.

    The video also really pissed me off, because he tried to explain the difference between Autism and Asperger as simply one of cognitive (dis)ability, which is a major simplification and ignores the important key distinction, which is language development. So he also plays armchair psychiatrist, too. The DSM-V is coming out in a few years and will probably remove the Asperger Syndrome category and replace it will a new criterion for Pervasive Developmental Disorders that includes Autism, PDD-NOS, and Asperger. So it is likely that in a few years this author would not be diagnosed with any type of Autism. He’s lucky he managed to score a book deal before then.

    (Yes, I’m a cynical bastard.)

    1. i heard him do a segment on “this american life” & kind of felt the same way, but i also felt skeptical about my own feelings because i don’t really have any experience with autism or work with people on the spectrum or anything. & i know that it’s accepted that there are very high-functioning autistic people out there who do things like have jobs, get married, father children, etc. as a person with a raft of invisible disabilities, i don’t want to be the dude who’s all like, “this guy doesn’t SEEM disabled to me!”

      but i do think autism is way over-diagnosed &/or people misunderstand & misinterpret the diagnostic criteria a lot. & i have just had too many experiences with people saying or doing ridiculous, fucked up things & trying to evade accountability because “the internet says i’m autistic!” (or depressed, or have ADHD, or whatever). like having some kind of disability means that you get a free pass on behaving like an asshole. it becomes a special snowflake syndrome, where everyone has to accommodated & no one ever has to address their shit.

      anyway, good comment! it’s nice to hear from someone with some knowledge/experience in this specific area.

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