Curt Schilling's Son 'The Best Kind of Different'
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Curt Schilling pitched the Boston Red Sox into the 2004 World Series and a state of ecstasy. But his youngest son Grant had problems. In a family of three boys and a girl, Grant was different. He wouldnt sit with others. He couldnt tie his shoes. He'd have daily meltdowns. He'd develop obsessions. He shrank from his mother's hugs. He couldnt grasp directions. As his father said, he's just not processing. And yet Grant Schilling knew everything there is about dinosaurs, Legos, and mall rats. He displayed astonishing sensitivity to others. He was maddening and compelling.
Finally, Grant Schilling was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a neurological disorder which, by the way, a great many brilliant people have had.
Curt and Shonda Schilling have written the story of their family's life with Asperger's. It's called "The Best Kind of Different: One Family's Journey with Asperger's Syndrome." They join us from New York.
Thanks very much for being with us.
Ms. SHONDA SCHILLING (Author): Thanks for having us.
Mr. CURT SCHILLING (Baseball Player, Author): Thank you.
SIMON: And honestly, I want to ask Shonda Schilling most of the questions, but...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SCHILLING: Good. I like it that way.
SIMON: But I have to begin by asking you, what's it like for Curt Schilling to show his face in New York?
Mr. SCHILLING: Weve tried to stay to side streets, back alleys for the most part.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SCHILLING: I'm not a big - I dont go over well here.
SIMON: Well, thank you very much for braving the streets to come and speak with us. Shonda Schilling, I feel that we need a good working definition of Asperger's syndrome. Can you help us?
Ms. SCHILLING: I can tell you the signs that Grant has and how it works in our family and what weve seen. Grant has trouble seeing social cues. He has trouble seeing faces and understanding angry and sad on someone's face.
He is - gets into something that he really likes and he learns everything that he needs to know about that. And when he speaks, a lot of times he speaks without a filter. So he speaks what we like to call straight from the heart.
SIMON: Hmm. And Mr. Schilling, you say at one point in your family's story, he's just not processing anything.
Mr. SCHILLING: Right. Right. Well, I mean so to kind of make that a simple exercise in understanding, if you were to tell Grant to go upstairs and brush your teeth, put your pajamas on and go to bed, Grant would go upstairs and brush his teeth and come back downstairs. And then if you told him to go upstairs and put your pajamas on and go to bed, he'd come back downstairs after his pajama - multi-step directions are very hard for him to process.
You know, that being said, he's incredibly intelligent. It's just the way his brain works, he takes different routes to solutions than other people.
SIMON: And let me understand something. When Grant announces to you, I won't eat that...
Ms. SCHILLING: Mm-hmm.
SIMON: ...it's the instinctive reaction of a parent to say, yes you will, young man, or you'll eat nothing.
Ms. SCHILLING: Right.
SIMON: But that doesnt have any - cut any ice with Grant, I gather.
Ms. SCHILLING: You know, if I were to say to any of my other kids, youre not getting up from the table until you finish that, you know, on a typical child they finish it and they get up from the table. He is locked in on not eating that particular food and it might be the texture of the food. It might be the color of the food. It wasnt as simple as I dont like broccoli and I'm not going to eat it. There was always something more to it that had to do with sensory issues that I had no idea.
SIMON: Something you talk about in the book is that, look, baseball players make a good income and that could be good for a family, but they're away from home for weeks at a time during the season. They have to be kind of single-minded in a very demanding and unforgiving profession. Now, that would place a strain on any couple.
Mr. SCHILLING: Oh, no question. No question. I mean it's...
SIMON: Well, but what (unintelligible) particular strain of a couple confronting this?
Mr. SCHILLING: Well, so for me, baseball was a 12-month-a-year job. There was a very small window of time after each season when I would try and wind down and relax and recover and get back and start getting ready for the season. But it's not any different than a lot of, you know, jobs in the real world. You travel most of the time. Youre away from home. You know, the difference is that, you know, youre compensated a lot more for doing what I did for a living than most other people are for any profession. But that compensation doesnt come into play when it comes to your children.
SIMON: We're talking to Curt and Shonda Schilling - their book, "The Best Kind of Different: One Family's Journey with Asperger's Syndrome." Shonda Schilling, it must have been tempting to say: I don't care if you are pitching in the seventh game of the World Series, I need help.
Ms. SCHILLING: But see, I took it as a pride thing, which was a mistake. If I asked for help, then I wasn't a good enough mother. And because Grant wasn't achieving and my other kids were not achieving - they weren't the straight A students - I really thought that I was a bad mother.
And through this process I've learned that, you know what, I am a good mother. And you know, there is not perfect child and there is no perfect parents and there is no perfect parenting skills. But if your kids are happy, you know, that's the best gift that you can give your children.
SIMON: I don't want us to lose sight of the fact that, well, according to scholarly reports, it's possible that Einstein, Ben Franklin, Napoleon, Lincoln, Harry Truman might've all had Asperger's Syndrome.
Ms. SCHILLING: Well, Steven Spielberg has Asperger's.
Mr. SCHILLING: Yeah. It's one of the things, I think, that we both talked about when the diagnosis was handed to us and we started to really understand what it was. Puzzle pieces just kind of fell into place. You know, those temper tantrums in the grocery store.
You used to look at kids and go, geez, will you get a hold of your kid. And the kids you went to school with who were, quote-unquote, outcasts and different. A lot of things made sense. Unfortunately, it's sad to think that you - we grew up in a generation where those kids were just looked at as just unruly, as opposed to challenged.
SIMON: Would you ever get embarrassed about being embarrassed by a tantrum.
Ms. SCHILLING: Yes.
Mr. SCHILLING: Not me.
Ms. SCHILLING: I can't help but be sensitive to reactions of people around me when I really, you know, I don't have control of the situation. But there's still times, you know, when he's at a soccer game and he's supposed to be playing goalie and he's twisted himself so far up and here comes the ball and he can't untwist himself. I mean, I am going towards laughing at those situations. But I still get embarrassed.
SIMON: Twisted himself how?
Mr. SCHILLING: In the net.
Ms. SCHILLING: In the net. He was twirling in the net, you know, and at 10 years old that's not funny. You know, at 10 years old the kids are playing to win. The parents are there...
Mr. SCHILLING: Yeah, the parents...
Ms. SCHILLING: ...you know, because they want to win.
Mr. SCHILLING: ...are sure playing to win. Yeah.
Ms. SCHILLING: And there he is all twisted up in the net. And they score and the kids are yelling at him. And he says to me, Can you imagine they were yelling at me for that? Like, he doesn't get that he just, you know, cost them a goal.
Mr. SCHILLING: He has his Charlie Brown moments.
Ms. SCHILLING: Well...
SIMON: I would - if I ever meet him - and I hope I do one day - I would never want to break wind around him.
Ms. SCHILLING: Oh, no way.
Mr. SCHILLING: Yeah, that's one of my favorites.
Ms. SCHILLING: Yeah, and he tells that every chance he gets. Don't ever ask Grant anything honestly either.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: I should explain. Grant announces when his parents...
Ms. SCHILLING: Hey, his mother never does.
Mr. SCHILLING: We fart in public and Grant makes sure to announce it to anybody within earshot that what has just happened.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SCHILLING: I think it's great.
Ms. SCHILLING: And sometimes you do stuff, then you go, oh oh no no, and here it comes. It's just - there's no way to hide that. But I think that's the beautiful thing about Grant, is that once you set into your mind that nothing he does is out of maliciousness or disrespect, you really appreciate the heart that's inside that little boy.
SIMON: Well, Curt and Shonda Schilling, it's been just a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much.
Mr. SCHILLING: Thank you.
Ms. SCHILLING: Thank you.
SIMON: Shonda and Curt Schilling. Their new book is "The Best Kind of Different: One Family's Journey with Asperger's Syndrome."
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