SLP Kristen Finch and her husband, David.
Name: Kristen Finch, MS, CCC-SLP
Title: Private Practitioner
Hometown: McHenry, Illinois
Ask clinicians what brought them to the field and you're likely to hear a personal story about their own experience in treatment—or a sibling's or friend's. But for Kristen Finch, the personal experience became more pronounced after earning her CCCs.
Finch met her future husband in high school. He was a goofy friend who shared a similar sense of humor. After years of friendship, the relationship blossomed into romance and, eventually, marriage. As with many newlyweds, there were numerous challenges—allocation of chores, miscommunication, integrating personal habits and quirks into a household. But Finch, a speech-language pathologist in a specialized autism program, began to suspect that David's difficulties were more deeply rooted.
While dating, Finch "didn't ever see any red flags that would've made me consider any diagnosis. He was my quirky friend. After we had been dating and then living together and married, it became more difficult for him to mask what was going on inside his head."
When researching informal measures of autism for a client family, Finch came across an online questionnaire—a checklist of behaviors that, when grouped together, she hoped would encourage the family to pursue a referral. As she paged through it, she noticed some of the traits applied to David.
So that evening, after putting the children to bed, Finch led her husband through an extensive, 200-item questionnaire. Halfway in, David found himself stunned by the insightful queries and asked, "What is this?" Finch reassured him, "You'll find out when we're done." That evening confirmed what Finch already suspected, and led them to a full assessment and eventual diagnosis of Asperger syndrome.
Receiving the diagnosis was, in many ways, a relief. David's initial reaction to their informal testing was, "of course." Behaviors that were taking a toll on their marriage and young family were seen in a different light. David, who had spent a lifetime observing others and creating different personas to fit into various social settings, now had an explanation for his discomfort with perception, processing, and engaging with others. For Finch the questionnaire illuminated areas in which David was struggling and covering.
Yet in many ways, the diagnosis was where the challenges really began. Although Finch never viewed him as a project, David moved into "fix it" mode. He developed an overwhelming enthusiasm for goal setting and data collection. His conscious decision to work on his "husband abilities" was nearly obsessive, and he'd take copious notes on how to behave in given situations. Throughout, Finch remained a supportive spouse, rather than a clinician, and, eventually, David was able to relax his own standards enough to enjoy the journey rather than only strive for progress.
Finch would typically advocate for an early diagnosis in a case like David's. But, she said, "I believe things happen when they're meant to happen, and things have worked out well since Dave received his diagnosis. He had 30 years of personal coping strategies enabling his success up to that point, and was in a place where he truly accepted this about himself."
The diagnosis gave Finch insight into how David's mind works. It allowed the couple to re-emphasize the love that brought them together rather than permit disruptive behaviors to drive them apart. At times she has shared her experience with clients' parents.
"I have had parents devastated over a recent diagnosis and shared with them that the outcome doesn't have to be gloom and doom," Finch said. "It is possible for someone to receive this diagnosis and be very successful. Parents are often surprised and relieved. There is this stigma around a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. I am always very careful to point out that the key word in autism spectrum disorder is spectrum."
Contact Kristen Finch, MS, CCC-SLP, at firstname.lastname@example.org. David Finch has chronicled his story in The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger syndrome and One Man's Quest to be a Better Husband.