Autism Talk TV 17 - Shonda Schilling, Autism, and Fitness. Oh My!
As the wife of major league baseball player Curt Schilling and a mother of four, Shonda Schilling faced a lot of parenting challenges on her own. The biggest was her son Grant's diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome.
By Ian Hodder
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While Curt Schilling's pitching was helping the Boston Red Sox win two World Series, his wife, Shonda, bore most of the burden of taking care of their four children - including a son who was eventually diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.
Even when his dad was pitching, young Grant Schilling hated going to baseball games, and a tantrum would often ensue. Grant's acting out and difficulty relating to others frustrated Shonda from the time he was very young, especially when Curt was on the road. Over the years, she chalked up her son's behavior to outside stresses, such as moving a lot. But finally, three years ago, a neurologist diagnosed Grant, now 10, with Asperger's, a form of autism.
In her new memoir,The Best Kind of Different, Shonda reflects on her son's experience with Asperger's and how it affected the entire family. From her home in Massachusetts, she spoke with Everyday Health.
Everyday Health: Once, after playing with Grant, Curt said to you, "He's not processing anything." Why did that impress you so particularly?
Shonda Schilling:Because I knew something was different with Grant, and here was someone who didn't spend a lot of time with him saying it so seriously. It was very hard for me to stand outside the bubble. So that's what made me go over to the computer and Google "not processing," and the first thing that came up was "autism." But I thought, I know people with autistic kids, and he doesn't seem like he's autistic.
Everyday Health: You had noticed Grant was different. You also hadn't noticed.
Shonda Schilling:Right, because with every stage, I kept saying, "Okay, this is the terrible twos. The terrible threes. He's the middle child. He's the third child." There always seemed to be a reason. We had just moved from Arizona to Boston, so that could be why he's doing this. It wasn't until we were here in Boston for a while that I noticed there was a difference between him and my 5-year-old.
Everyday Health: How was Grant diagnosed with Asperger's?
Shonda Schilling:When he was 7, I took him for an ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] evaluation; I knew he probably had that. When I went back for the diagnosis, and after he'd had a separate test, the neurologist told me he was on the autistic spectrum.
Everyday Health: He's in fourth grade at regular public school now. Is Grant's daily life different from that of other kids?
Shonda Schilling:For him, things go smoother when he's not surprised by anything, when he's expecting things. A schedule works really well. When he has soccer practice, we let him know a couple of days in advance and we remind him. And we recognize that he will talk obsessively about a subject, and we try to balance that - we say, "Okay, somebody else would like to talk here."
But we never know what kind of thing will shake him up and get him stuck. I do think that will get better as he gets older, because I've already seen differences, from age 5 to 8 to 10, in him being able to handle things better.
Everyday Health: Grant takes medication for ADHD. What strategies do you use for Asperger's?
Shonda Schilling:There is no medication, there is no cure, for Asperger's. Curt refers to Grant as a jack-in-the-box. You never know when he's going to pop out. You never know when he's going to have a good day. What I think might make him sad doesn't even faze him. You always feel as if you're playing goalie, because you're always trying to cut something off. You just try to arrange his day so he can live comfortably, and not be rattled, by keeping him on a schedule.
He's on a kick right now with fried eggs. He eats them morning, noon, and night. So you keep eggs in the house. You keep bread in the house for toast. You look at it and you ask yourself, "Is he going to eat fried eggs again? He's eaten them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner." And then you go, "Well, so what? It's just fried eggs. He's making them himself. There's nothing to be upset over."
Some parents think their child has to eat this many of this at breakfast and this many of that at lunch - I'm not like that. I can't be like that. I have to be flexible. I have to teach Grant how to be flexible, so that he can maneuver in the world, and I think he will. His biggest problem is that he is less mature than other kids his age, but I think by the time he's 25, he'll be okay. Of course, I couldn't see that a few years ago. Now I can.
Everyday Health: How should people react when they encounter a tantrum in a child with Asperger's?
Shonda Schilling:I know people's first reaction is to want to help, but it actually makes the situation worse. The best advice is, Let one parent get involved. We have to get them out of the place they're in - not necessarily the physical place but the sensory place - and get them calmed down.
Everyday Health: How important is it to look after your own health when you're caring for a child like Grant?
Shonda Schilling:If you're not healthy, you can't be a caregiver for someone else. And that doesn't mean going to the spa or going shopping; it just means getting in the right mental state. Holding all this in, not feeling supported, not feeling understood, is not going to help you be a better parent; it's going to make you a more frustrated parent. When you're not in a good mental state, you can't be the best parent you want to be.
Everyday Health: Are there good things about Asperger's?
Shonda Schilling:When Grant grows up, he's not going to be motivated by how much money he makes. He's not going to be motivated by the status a job might bring him and what others might think. He's going to be motivated to do what he wants to do and what brings him true happiness. That's a blessing.
Everyday Health: What advice would you give parents of a child who has just received an Asperger's diagnosis?
Shonda Schilling:You're not alone. The biggest thing I've learned on the book tour is howmuchI'm not alone. And the things you feel are real - you have to work through them. It's a process, but I strongly believe that at the end of the process, you'll realize it's okay.
Everyday Health: How has this experience helped your relationship with Curt?
Shonda Schilling:We had to learn to communicate again. A lot of us, as couples, get into a routine and think we're communicating, but we're not really communicating. Kids can see that. And when you work on your relationship and on communicating, and you're happy, that's the best medicine you can give your kids.
Everyday Health: You say that you cried when you read Curt's intro to your book.
Shonda Schilling:I did. Because, in a large way, I knew then that he really got it.
Everyday Health: Did he cry when he read your claim in your book that you're funnier than him?
Shonda Schilling:That's so funny! I always crack jokes, and he doesn't laugh. I say, "You really don't understand how funny I am." That's our joke between us. So when I wrote that, he couldn't help but laugh, because it's so dorky it's funny.
Everyday Health:Explain your description of the Schillings as a 'wonderful mess of a family.'
Shonda Schilling:We're not perfect. There is no such thing as perfect parents or perfect children. You know what? We still have our problems. But the one thing I hope for is that when my kids grow up, they'll think their childhood was happy.
Video: Shonda Schilling interview
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