Curt Schilling spent 20 years on the mound facing some of Major League Baseball’s toughest hitters. During those two decades, his teams won three World Series, including one in 2004, when he famously wore a bloody sock to help bring the Boston Red Sox their first championship title in 86 years.
But nothing in all those years could help prepare Curt and his wife, Shonda, for the challenges they would face raising their four children. Shonda details their struggles in a new book, “The Best Kind of Different: Our Family’s Journey with Asperger’s Syndrome,” which focuses on the diagnosis of their son Grant and how it changed them as a family.
“You go through different stages,” Shonda Schilling told FoxNews.com. “You mourn the child that you thought you would have. You’re sad because you’re afraid of the future and you feel guilty. You feel guilty because you’ve just spent the first seven years of his life yelling at him when he had no idea why you were yelling at him.”
Grant, who is now 10 years old, was diagnosed at the age of 7. At the time, Curt was on the road with the Red Sox and Shonda was at home, doing most of the child-rearing by herself.
“There was an immense amount of guilt for me,” Curt said. “I was the parent that continued to be on the other end of the phone saying just discipline him more or be stricter with him – not knowing that was the absolute wrong thing to do. But I’ve always been a glass-half-full kind of a guy in the sense that for me the diagnosis was OK – it wasn’t life-threatening.”
Instead of dwelling on the diagnosis and asking ‘why us,’ the Schillings forged ahead and focused on Grant’s treatment. And even though it’s been three years since the diagnosis, Curt and Shonda admit they still don’t know what to expect from one day to the next.
“It’s a new challenge every day,” Curt said. “It’s like every morning you wind up a jack-in-the-box and something different pops out. And a lot of days it’s great, it’s fun and you’ll watch him do things that you never thought a 10-year-old could do, and other days it’s just like, ‘Wow, this is going to be a long day.’”
Asperger's syndrome, which is generally thought to be on the milder end of the Autistic Spectrum, is a developmental disorder that affects a child's ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others, according to the Mayo Clinic. Children with Asperger's typically exhibit social awkwardness and an all-absorbing interest in specific topics. In Grant’s case, he has been completely absorbed with animals and dinosaurs.
“He’s focused and captivated by that all the time, and he’s so smart,” Curt said proudly. “But socially… you know, the analogy that always works for me is everyone has their bubble, their personal space, and you respect other people’s, and when people get in yours, it’s an uncomfortable thing. Grant doesn’t have one and doesn’t recognize anybody else’s – physically, socially and verbally.”
But that hasn’t stopped Grant from having some very close friends. Curt and Shonda said one of the highlights of their life is the fact that Grant has two best friends – one with Down syndrome, and one who suffers from a rare genetic disease.
“Grant’s life in school is centered around getting to school and providing an environment for those boys to enjoy their day. It’s awesome,” Curt said.
All of the Schillings’ children, including Grant, are enrolled in the public school system in the Massachusetts town they live in – a fact they are both very proud of.
“We live in the number two school district in the United States,” Curt said. “I will tell you this, though… you have to care and be involved in your children’s lives, and understand what’s out there and what you can get from the school system to assist a child with special needs. You have to be intimately interested and involved to make that happen. It just doesn’t happen on its own.”
Shonda said they’re still “mainstreaming” Grant, and they hope he will continue to be the best student he can be in the public school system.
The Schillings have also had trying times with their other three children. Not only do all of their children suffer from some form of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), their oldest son, Gehrig, who is now 14, battled an eating disorder.
“It wasn’t a self-image thing,” Shonda said. “It was about control. It was the only thing he could control. My final straw was when he flushed a hamburger down the toilet and that’s when I said, ‘we’re going to the doctor to get weighed.’”
Since then, Gehrig has gained 40 pounds and has grown taller than Shonda.
The Toll on Their Marriage
If it seems like this family has been through a lot – it’s because they have, and Curt and Shonda’s marriage is no exception. Shonda talks intimately about their ups and downs in the book, including her struggle with depression.
“I thought depression meant get in bed and stay in bed,” Shonda said. “You know, I wasn’t in the corner crying all the time. I was just holding it all in.”
Eventually, Shonda sought help and was prescribed an antidepressant.
“I didn’t realize I was depressed until after I could take that breath,” she said. “But I had to take care of myself before I could really be the kind of mom that my kids needed.”
The Schillings also went to marriage counseling shortly after Curt retired in 2007.
“It was 14 years of marriage over the phone and occasional road trips to 24/7 I’m home,” Curt said. “We never had to live under the same roof. Our kitchen was a pit stop for me or for her. So we went to counseling, and obviously I was like ‘I don’t need counseling. We have a problem, let’s figure it out.’ But there are people better versed in helping couples through that, and I’ve always been very open and very honest – so it actually turned out to be the best thing possible.”
That’s what their new book is: open and honest. And when it comes to children, Shonda said always trust your ‘mom instincts.’
“The thing is if you’ve met one Asperger kid you’ve only met one because they are all different,” she said. “So, if there are behaviors that seem odd, you have to go with your gut and just have someone look at it and explain it.”
While the incidence of Asperger’s syndrome is not well established, experts conservatively estimate that two out of every 10,000 children have the disorder, with boys three to four times more likely than girls to have AS.