By Sean Barron
Shonda Schilling recalled one evening in 2007 when, before the start of a Baltimore Orioles game, her 7-year-old son, Grant, made it known he wanted to leave by screaming, covering his ears and flailing.
She also vividly remembers that it wasn’t until the eighth inning of Game 4 of the 2007 World Series between the Colorado Rockies and the Boston Red Sox that her son finally joined the rest of the family in the stands.
Never mind that Grant’s father and Schilling’s husband, former Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling, was on the mound. Such incidents had nothing to do with baseball, Shonda will quickly point out.
They did, however, have everything to do with Grant’s sensory problems and inability to process and deal with too much stimulation because of Asperger’s syndrome.
“2007 was the year I realized something was really different about Grant,” Schilling told an audience of mental-health professionals and others during Friday’s autism awareness conference at The Lake Club, 1140 Paulin Road. “My 4-year-old was more mature.”
Asperger’s is a pervasive developmental condition on the autism spectrum characterized by an inability to understand most social interactions. Those with AS often have limited social means, narrow interests, unusual preoccupations, repetitions and rituals, and nonverbal communication problems.
Schilling, of Medfield, Mass., was the keynote speaker for the seven-hour gathering, sponsored by Potential Development Center and Help Hotline Crisis Center, Inc.
She also shared part of her family’s journey coping with Asperger’s, much of which is detailed in her new book, “The Best Kind of Different” (HarperCollins Publishers, New York City).
In her 224-page book, Schilling discusses how, under the veneer of appearing to have a perfect family, she hid tremendous sadness, guilt and depression brought about by many of her dealings with Grant before having learned of his condition.
Compounding Schilling’s feelings were others’ judgmental comments, as well as her husband’s being on the road most of the year and having little idea of everyday struggles at home, she says.
“I was overwhelmed about the future and how I would be a parent to him,” Schilling explained.
After the diagnosis, though, Grant’s behaviors began to make more sense to his mother, and the Schillings re-examined much of what they thought they knew about Grant, she noted. Over time, her son’s strength and determination made her marriage and family closer, Schilling continued.
“He has taught me so many great lessons in life,” such as staying true to oneself, realizing that prestige and other superficial values matter little and encouraging children to do their best without striving for perfection, she said.
It is hoped the book “will give Grant the dignity he deserves,” while helping others better understand those on the autism spectrum, explained Schilling, who’s also a cancer survivor and has a child with dyslexia.
Other speakers at the conference included Dr. Lisa Phillips, a clinical psychologist in Hermitage, Pa.; and Abbey Bonasso, a music therapist with Cleveland-based The Music Settlement.