After the Diagnosis
04/05/2010 at 01:00 AM EDT
For Shonda Schilling, it was a watershed moment. As she and her four children headed for their seats at a baseball game one day in the summer of 2007, son Grant, then 7, threw a major-league tantrum. "He was screaming, 'I wanna go! I wanna go now!'" recalls Shonda, whose husband, Curt Schilling, was then a star pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. "I managed to smile through gritted teeth-I had to put on a good face. People might recognize me, and they were clearly judging me. They were looking at me like, 'Jeez, can't you control your kid?'"
The truth was, neither Shonda nor Curt could control Grant, and two months later they found out why: Grant was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. In a new book, The Best Kind of Different: Our Family's Journey with Asperger's Syndrome, Shonda, 42, writes about Grant's condition and the rough months following his diagnosis: She and Curt, who retired in 2009, began couples counseling; their eldest son, Gehrig, developed anorexia; their youngest, Garrison, now 7, was found to have dyslexia-along with ADHD, which he shares with his three siblings. It's a book that has nothing to do with "putting on a good face," and Shonda is proud of that. "It was written from the heart," she says.
Grant's problems began in infancy, when he cried more easily than siblings Gehrig, now 14, and Gabby, 12. As he grew he was impossible to discipline and had trouble making friends. A de facto single mom at the family's Medfield, Mass., home while Curt, now 43, traveled with the team, Shonda sensed something was wrong, but Grant's diagnosis, when it came, was devastating. "You mourn the child you thought he was going to be," Shonda says. Adds Curt, who often played the heavy: "I was punishing someone for things he never meant to do-what a horrible feeling."
And then there were Gehrig's problems: He was picking at his food and not gaining weight. In May 2008, just as Shonda was coming to terms with Grant's condition, she learned that Gehrig had secretly flushed a hamburger down the toilet. At the doctor's office she discovered that Gehrig, then 13, weighed just 78 lbs. "The doctor said he was one pound away from having a feeding tube up his nose," Shonda recalled. "That scared him."
Gehrig enrolled in an outpatient program and therapy with his parents, who "blamed each other," Shonda says. "Curt thought, 'It's because you care what you look like,' and I thought it was because the media called him fat." Shonda speculates that other issues-including his dad's absences, Grant's difficulties and the tensions between her and Curt-also played a role, but Gehrig is healthy now. By the fall of 2009, he had gained 40 lbs. and could eat a meal without having to be monitored.
Today, life for all six Schillings is becoming less fraught. Adderall has eased the three younger kids' ADHD symptoms (Gehrig opted out because he doesn't like how the pills make him feel), and Grant, who gets social-skills coaching, "is happier," Shonda says.
She and Curt, who's more involved with his family now, are too. She hopes her book will help people understand how hard it was to get there. "The next time you're in the store and a kid's throwing a fit, be supportive," she says. "You never know what's going on in people's lives."