Book Review: The Journal Of Best Practices

As part of our ongoing mission to bring more discussions of happiness to the interwebs – and as a diversion from all the numbers heavy income statement and balance sheet posts of the past couple days – we bring you today’s book review.

Back in February 2012, I heard this interview on NPR with David Finch, the author of the memoir The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband.  Also included in the interview was his wife, Kristen Finch, who was the person who originally diagnosed David with Aspergers and jump started the journey that would lead to more happiness for everyone in their entire family.

I’m not typically big on reading memoirs (often I find them a bit too sentimental or gushy), but this interview made it seem like this memoir was one I could really get into.  You see, if I were born when Aspergers was a “label”, there’s a pretty strong likelihood that I would have gotten myself a nice little aspie sticker for my Trapper Keeper.  At least, that’s what the online Asperger’s Syndrome tests seem to indicate.


What Is Asperger Syndrome?

In the mid-1990’s Asperger syndrome as it’s currently understood became a standardized clinical psychological diagnosis, although recently it seems more likely to be lumped into a much wider “Autism spectrum”.  But the main defining characteristics of Aspergers are “significant dificulty in social interaction, alongside restricted patterns of behavior and interests.”

If you clicked through to the NPR interview with David and Kristin Finch, you’ll find that when David took the Asperger’s diagnostic quiz, he scored a 155/200.  His wife, Kristen (a neuro-typical, aka non-Aspie), scored an 8.  When I took it, I was a 135.  (Those are my results above!)  What does it mean in my life?

Basically, it’s meant that learning the nuances of appropriate social interaction was not natural at all growing up (trust me, this is different from just being introverted).  Until I was able to correctly learn (and apply!) the rules of interacting with people, it’s fair to say that I was easily described as socially awkward.  On top of the awkwardness, I also thrive on structure and predictability – change or deviation from a routine has always been a Challenge.  (Yes, that’s a big-C challenge.)

Asperger syndrome isn’t debilitating.  It doesn’t stop a person from living a perfectly normal and productive life.  What it does do, though, is throw its own unique a set of quirks in the mix that (just like any more neuro-typical quirks) will affect how relationships develop.


Basic Summary

David Finch, the author, found out he has Aspergers after already being married for several years and having two small children.  Feeling unhappy and unsatisfied in his life and his marriage, Finch suddenly had a label and framework for the quirks that he had been letting spoil his life.

In an amusing and heartfelt manner that feels suitable for both male and female readers, Finch gives readers of The Journal of Best Practices a front seat view to his reaction and action following his diagnosis.  Instead of being beaten down by it, Finch found the diagnosis empowering.  Within the framework of what is known about Aspergers, he could start to change the way he interacted with his world.  So, step-by-step, he built his Journal of Best Practices – a compilation of all the lessons that he needed to internalize along the path of rebuilding his marriage, his relationship with his children, and his view of himself.

It wasn’t an easy or immediate process, and some of Finch’s methods are fairly peculiar.  (I particularly enjoyed the one where he asks his wife to provide quantifiable weekly performance reviews in the style of his work performance reviews, but focused on his job performance as both father and husband.)  But, in the end, the results are clear.  Through David’s hard work and tireless dedication to the Journal of Best Practices, the Finch family ends up in a much better place.


Take Home

Let’s face it.  Even the best marriages are like cuddling kittens.  Everything seems soft and warm and snuggly until all of the sudden you’ve suddenly got a set of teeth burying themselves into your arm.  And sometimes we need to work on getting the teeth out, and sometimes we need to work on putting them in perspective.

The Journal of Best Practices does a bit of both for the surprise kitten teeth in any marriage.  Many of the Best Practices that David internalizes, like “Be More Present At Home”, are things that we could all probably work on occasionally, but Finch expresses them in a way that comes off as neither over-dramatized nor patronizing, which I think can happen all too often when tackling this kind of subject.  Plus, if you’ve ever been freaked out about being splashed in the face with water, you can laugh at and appreciate Finch’s description of putting on swim goggles to give his kids their nightly bath.

Long story made short – The Journal of Best Practices is a good book with an incredibly long subtitle, and is well worth checking out.


Have you read The Journal of Best Practices?  What’s your Aspie/Neuro-Typical score?  Go here for the test.  

Any other good marriage memoirs that are funny (and not too overly sappy/sentimental) that I should add to my reading list?


* Just a reminder, some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and any purchases you make through those links go (in a very small way) to supporting this blog.  

23 comments to Book Review: The Journal Of Best Practices

  • Hm… My score was 143, “probably neurotypical.” Some of the answers were a little iffy, though: queries described characteristics I had as a little kid but that have trained or beaten out of me over the years.

    I’ve never been good at socializing. Really, people scare the bedoodles out of me.

    On the other hand, it’s unclear to me why, if a person is functional, not depressed, and able to make her or his way through life with reasonable contentment, WHY we need a label. I think we tend to stick too many labels on each other. It’s OK to be different. And IMHO, it’s important to teach our kids (and ourselves) that different isn’t bad or necessarily even strange. If it had been OK to be different during the extremely conformist 1950s, I would have had a much happier childhood. 😉
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    • I made Mr. PoP take it, too and he kept arguing with the test. Saying “these are bad questions”. For that reason I made him put a “2” on the “I can’t fill in forms” question. He really does get VERY bothered by the limitations of bubble-type questionnaires. =)

      I agree that there are some things that have been “beaten” out of me over the years, too… though in my line of work (computer programming), there’s a much higher tolerance for weirdness than there is in Mr. PoP’s (sales).

      As for being put into boxes, I’m not big on labels, either… and private school in the early 90’s was a pretty conformist place to be, too! But I think one of the things that I liked about this book was how the label wasn’t really an excuse, it just provided him a framework to understand where his different urges and needs were coming from and helped him address them at that level. I think the water splashing thing is a great example – most people would say, just get over your freak outs with water being splashed in your face – since for most people that’s easy. But knowing that this was probably an Aspie thing that would be very hard for him to get over, he found ways to work around it – putting a bathing suit and goggles on for bathtime with the kids rather than staying as far away as possible during that time.

  • PK

    59 / 200, 144 / 200 on the Neurotypical score.

    I think it would be interesting to have my wife complete it for me, heh. It’s interesting to drill down into the groups where you score above or below average. Interesting quiz – I might have to pick up the book now, haha. Thanks!
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    • Yeah, I know spouses would pick different answers. There were a couple when Mr. PoP was filling it out that he assigned a “0” and I would have picked “2” for him or vice versa. But I didn’t change his answers that he gave. FWIW, I think he was 70-ish Aspie, 130-NT? I should have saved his results, but didn’t. =)

  • This was fascinating! Also thank you for sharing your own experiences and scores.
    Here’s what I got:
    Aspie: 38/200
    Neurotypical: 171/200

    I would be curious to see what my spouse would select for me. Post-Christmas with family I’m kind of disgruntled with my spouse and would probably be a tad overzealous in filling things out, if we were to do it for each other. …Hope that makes sense as I was upset with some behaviour, so I would be more inclined to select extremes on things like “reads social clues correctly” aka “I’m pissed at you, stop pretending I’m not.”
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    • haha, I totally see where the disgruntled spouse could influence some answers.

      For us, we both gave each other “2” on the question about knowing when to apologize, but for opposite reasons! Mr. PoP says I apologize too much, and I say he doesn’t do it often enough! =)

  • 123! Although, I felt it might have been more accurate if my wife filled it out for me. Some questions were quite striking. For example, I often transpose numbers when they are told to me verbally. Particularly the 5th and 6th number in a telephone. It’s quite a challenge since I work in finance.

    My one problem with the test was that I wasn’t sure if some of it couldn’t just be introversion.
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    • Yeah, I’m a numbers person, and that’s something that I’ve had as a weakness my whole life, too. So I always double check and triple check numbers (especially for clients!).

  • I would love this read and am adding it to my Amazon wish list. As a guy who’s fought with stuttering his whole life, I love stories about people who create systems to work around problems rather than wallow in them.
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  • Fascinating! I admit i didn’t get all the way through the test (annoying crappy computer making it a pain) but I got a pretty good feel for where it was going based on the 40 questions I did do.

    I’ve always been a bit socially awkward (mainly internal, though possibly influenced by my immigrant parents and different norms/not wanting me to spend much time with friends in favour of more productive things). The biggest thing for me comes down to my introversion – at heart I prefer solitude and I need a lot of downtime alone to feel balanced and happy.
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    • Yeah, the test definitely takes a slightly longer time investment than your standard Cosmo quiz, but if you’re ever on a stronger connection and have time to spare, you might find it interesting to go back and finish it.
      I didn’t show it, but the results also give you a breakdown of which elements of your personality are more “NT” than others with a lovely little chart. Kindof cool, actually.

  • I remember listening to that interview last year as well. A lot of what he said sounded similar to how I felt. After listening to their interview I took a similar test and scored pretty high for Aspergers. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I listened pretty late in the interview and didn’t get a chance to catch the title.
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  • […] much better telling the other person exactly why we love them.  (Especially because I’m such a literal person.)  So read on and evesdrop on why Mr. PoP loves me and vice […]

  • Wow, I got a 165 out of 200 for Aspie.

    When I have had a few conversations with other people about Asperger’s, the general opinion was “Asperger’s is way overdiagnosed, if it is even a real disease. It’s probably just a bunch of people who are too lazy to learn how to play well with others, and use this new trendy label to act like a jerk.”

    Now I wonder if they thought I was a jerk, even though no one ever once told me “I think you have Aspergers.”
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    • Wow – have you read the book yet? You might actually identify with the author a lot.

      The way I look at aspie is that it’s not really an excuse to act like a jerk, but sometimes an explanation as to why things that seem straightforward and natural for a lot of people just aren’t. At least that’s how it plays out for me.

  • […] usually happens when I’ve overshared this fascination – I think that’s part of my aspie tendencies – and I realize too late that person is not interested.  But I don’t get embarrassed or […]

  • trudy

    Uh. Your Aspie score: 120 of 200
    Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 109 of 200
    You seem to have both Aspie and neurotypical traits.

    This would be more useful if I had any idea what they’re talking about with things like “hunting” or “neurotypical.”

    • It sounds like you’re pretty split – but this might help explain the traits a bit more if you’re curious.

      Aspie hunting seems to be very physical and sneaking around alone, where neurotypical hunting is more cooprerative – hence the social interaction part. I think it goes to the questions that were about whether or not you jumped over walls or obstacles on a regular basis. (I totally do! Would love to jump over rather than walk around!)

  • Gwen

    Your Aspie score: 159 of 200
    Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 43 of 200
    You are very likely an Aspie

    Hmm, that’s kind of what I figured, but it’s oddly reassuring to have my suspicions confirmed by the internet. :) Some of the questions were so spot on that I was surprised to find out that something I’ve always experienced is so common that it ended up in the quiz. I’m been pretty good at playing “neurotypical” but had a strong suspicion that it’s way more exhausting for me than for most people.

    Thanks for this post, even if I’m coming to it a bit late!