Suddenly it seems that I am hearing about Asperger’s Syndrome everywhere I go. It was just a few years ago that I first heard the term as it was applied to a family member. Since then I’ve had neighbors move in, three of whom have been diagnosed with it; I’ve come across friends and family members who have witnessed its presence in their family. And I’ve seen it show up on the bestseller’s list at least three times now–Look Me in the Eye by John Robison, Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet and now The Best Kind of Different by Shonda Schilling.
Asperger’s is a syndrome I know well. I have seen its social awkwardness, its lack of eye contact, its strange brilliance. In The Best Kind of Different Shonda Schilling, wife of pitching great Curt Schilling, shares how it has impacted their family through their son Grant. She lets the reader into the journey as they discover that their son suffers from it and as they seek to deal with its sometimes-harsh realities.
Let me be honest and say that in most ways The Best Kind of Different is a rather unremarkable book. It does not have the human interest of Born on a Blue Day, the story of an autistic savant; it does not have the personal flavor of Look Me in the Eye. Where the other two books tell of Asperger’s from the perspective of one who has it (and, interestingly, people with the Syndrome typically express themselves far better in writing than in speech), this one tells of it from the perspective of the mother of one who suffers from it.
And so I suppose the real value in this book will be for those whose families are adapting to a child with Asperger’s. I am sure that many mothers and fathers will be able to identify with the exasperation of the Schillings as they try to put an end to the poor behavior of their child and the sorrow they feel when they realize that the behavior was often caused by factors outside of their son’s control.
This book reinforces the lesson that I have learned repeatedly through this 10MillionWords project. Time and time again I’ve seen how a distinctly Christian worldview makes all the difference, that seeing things through a biblical lens changes everything. And as I read The Best Kind of Different I longed for Schilling to share something truly meaningful about the spiritual realities of disability. She learns to embrace her son’s disability and learns to see some of its manifestations as a blessing rather than a curse. And yet still she does not have that truly Christian perspective that would help her understand what disability is, why it exists, and how it will some day come to an end. At times she comes close, but she doesn’t ever actually get there. And in the end this leaves the book as incomplete as the author’s understanding of disability.
As I read this book I asked myself, “Would this ever have been published if it did not describe the family of a celebrity?” It is a fair question, I think, when it comes from the pen of a celebrity (or a celebrity’s wife as the case may be). I suppose it might have, but I think it is safe to say that it would not have made its way to the list of bestsellers. It isn’t a bad book by any stretch, but neither is it a particularly good one. Still, it does do a good job of describing Asperger’s and introducing the reader to an increasingly common condition. And for that I am grateful.
Verdict: Read it if you want to better understand Asperger’s Syndrome and those who suffer from it.