A Welcome Dose of Reality

Here’s another installment of “Celebrities and ASD,” this time from the world of sports. It seems that former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling has a son with Asperger syndrome. He and his wife, Shonda (gotta love that name), wrote a 2010 book about their journey entitled The Best Kind of Different.

“Well, that’s special,” you might say. “Another Jenny McCarthy-like figure talking about how wonderful her child is and how her life has been transformed by this beautiful but different, otherworldly being entrusted to her care.” But you’d be wrong. At least from the Schillings’ interview on the Today show and a more extensive interview they gave to an online sports journalist named Maury Brown.

Here’s what I liked about the Schillings’ story. They’re willing to be real. Shonda (ooh, that name again) is very up-front about the seven years she spent not knowing that their son, Grant, was different. How she didn’t get his lack of responsiveness to her parenting. How she would yell and scream at this kid who seemed to disregard her every command. How she would get really angry at her on-the-road husband for not being around to help her with this “difficult child.”

And then there’s Curt’s admission that he really had a hard time relating to his son—and that he still has a lot of work to do on their relationship. The kid is so intense emotionally—both positive and negative—that he didn’t know what to do with him. He talks about trying to discipline Grant over the phone: shouting at him via long distance, threatening him with loss of privileges, trying to knock some sense into him verbally, all to no avail. Mind you, Schilling is known for speaking his mind pretty bluntly, and his unguarded comments in MLB circles have gotten him in trouble a few times. So it kind of fits that he would be just as direct with his children.

But oh, the reality that this couple brings to the conversation! I love that, because it isn’t easy, and parents are only human. Even after having learned that Grant is on the autism spectrum, they still have tough days—a very important insight. Knowing doesn’t change everything. It takes time and effort to change your expectations. It takes time, and trial and error, to learn how to roll with the punches. As Curt said, every day is like a jack-in-the-box. You don’t know what kind of kid is going to wake up each morning: Mr. Flame-Throwing Grumpy Gus or Lil’ SweetPea the Emotionally Needy Klingon. But they’re learning. They’re adjusting. They’re trying their best to figure the whole thing out and to do right by their son. And this a full three years after Grant’s diagnosis!

I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to see the video and read their interview. It’s so refreshing to know I’m not the only one who can lose it with my kids. Or that I’m not the only one who still doesn’t get them all the time—after all these years. Or that I’m not the only one who has to take a break every now and then lest I get wound so tightly that I snap. Or that I’m not the only one who forgets that all they’re doing is being themselves, being autistic in their own unique ways.

Because really, sometimes it just plain sucks. Every emotion is writ large. Every variation from routine is a potential explosion. Unless of course it’s the kid wanting to change the routine. Then it absolutely has to happen according to the newly announced plan. Every teacher needs a lesson in ASD. Every excursion, even to the flippin’ grocery store, is fraught with peril. Sometimes it just gets to be too much. And that’s why I’m so glad to know that folks like the Schillings are around: real people who don’t mind being honest about how hard it can be.

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