South Charlotte

Diagnosis of son's behavior was a breakthrough

"Looking at us from the outside," Shonda Schilling, 43, says of her family, "everyone thought we had everything."

The wife of retired Boston Red Sox All-Star pitcher and current ESPN Baseball Tonight commentator Curt Schilling is quick to point out how wrong that perception was, noting that "every family has problems."

Hers ran deeper than the frustrations and challenges of parenting her four children - Gehrig, 16, Gabriella, 14, Grant, 11, and Garrison, 9 - alone while her husband was on the road during his 18-year baseball career.

She found herself expending almost all of her energy and patience on the parenting demands of her third child, Grant.

"I would let go of my 2-year-old's hand in a parking lot before I'd let go of Grant's because he would immediately dash off and he wouldn't listen," she said.

Grant almost never did what Schilling asked and seemed to constantly disrespect her. His behavior problems put a tremendous strain on her marriage, and she felt like a failure as a mother.

Schilling increasingly isolated herself and her children because social situations often resulted in stressful encounters and what she perceived to be condemnation of her parenting.

"And the fact that I had to do all of this in the public eye only made it harder," she said.

When the Schillings' oldest son was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the summer of 2007, Schilling decided it was time to get Grant, a second-grader at the time, tested as well. The diagnosis was a shock.

Informed that Grant did have ADHD, Schilling was also told that her son had Asperger's syndrome and was on the autism spectrum.

"I didn't even know what that meant," Schilling recalls. She cried and then hopped on a plane to Chicago, where her husband was playing at the time, "because I didn't want to tell him that kind of news over the phone."

Curt Schilling's reaction was to agree that "it all made sense."

Schilling will be in town Sept. 29 and 30 to participate in Southeast Psych's Growing Healthy Families conference, where she will serve as the conference's keynote speaker and read from her book about her experience parenting a child with Asperger's syndrome.

Titled "The Best Kind of Different," Schilling wrote the book as a tribute to her son.

"I wanted to give him the dignity he deserves," she said.

The lessons Schilling learned from Grant's diagnosis affected her parenting of her other three children as well.

"We're all wired differently," she explains, "and it's important to respect each of them as individuals."

Her insights have resonated with other parents of children with autism, who have thanked her for writing her story.

Schilling would like them to know that they are not alone. There are others who share their frustrations and who understand the challenges they face.

But she also wants to celebrate the joy of raising a child like Grant.

"I yelled at my child for seven years because I didn't understand him," Schilling said. "Now I just think he is such a blessing."