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Young Autistic Musician ‘Some Kind of Miracle’ [Video]

Ethan Walmark, a 5-year-old Westporter, displays a remarkable knack for music and a fondness for the The Beatles.

Ethan Walmark's dad sang The Beatles’ “I Will” to his child every night. It’s the gentle type of song that a proud father would sing to his son, with lyrics like, “Love you forever and forever/Love you with all my heart.”

When Ethan was four, he played the song by ear. At five years old, he knows The Doors, the tunes from Glee and just about anything else he hears. For Ethan, who has autism, music is medicine, therapy and a rare gift.

“When people see our son and all the attributes he has, it takes a little of the pain away because I’m in pain 24/7,” said his mother, Allison Ziering Walmark.

While Ethan can belt out a bevy of tunes despite being too short to reach the piano pedals, his disorder makes social interactions difficult. When Mike Walmark, his dad, played The Beatles over an iPhone, Ethan started hysterically shouting to turn it off. He often shouts and has problems focusing.

The balance between the harmony of his music and the discord of his autism is a regular part of the Walmark family as they adjust to their always-changing lives.

“You’ll always have thoughts and goals and dreams and they may change, but that’s OK,” Mike Walmark said. “Life is messy.”

Various parenting experts gave the family different advice on how to deal with Ethan’s passion for music. Some told them to put a stop to it, since music allows the child to escape to a different world rather than developing human relationships. Others told them to let Ethan embrace what he loves.

“We just want our son to be happy, whatever that means to him,” Mike Walmark said. “It’s not about us anymore. It’s about him.”

So far, Chris Robison, a musician and instructor, has been meeting with Ethan for several weeks. The first song Ethan played for him at Half Mile Studios near was The Beatles’ “Let it Be.”

“It just blew my mind,” Robison told Patch. “I never met any musician who can get all the chords like that.”

Robison has had students with a variety of labels, such as dyslexic, and he himself knows something about them. Beginning in the late 1960s, he was an openly gay pioneering artist in the New York City music scene. In his career, he has recorded with John Lennon, Keith Richards and other music legends.

“Here comes a kid with another label – autistic – and I never felt that way when I hit him with the music,” Robison said. “Labels are convenient but certainly don’t tell the whole story. To me, he’s my regular playing buddy.”

With Ethan displaying a gift for music at only five years old, the sky is the limit as he develops his craft and learns to socialize.

“He’s a great kid and it’s some kind of a miracle,” Robison said. “I tell people but you can’t really see unless you’re there.”

Music is an outlet for Ethan, and his parents have their own. Since 2009, the family has raised more than $200,000 to find a cure for autism. For this year’s Walk Now for Autism Speaks event in Westchester County, the family’s “E-Team” hopes to raise more than $140,000.

To do so, Mike Walmark taps his colleagues in the finance world. Allison Ziering Walmark uses a popular Facebook page to reach out for donations. An annual backyard concert, called Spanstock, also helps the cause. The walk, which draws thousands of people, is a comfort for the family.

“It’s nice to be part of a larger community and know you’re not alone, because unless you have a child with special needs, you don’t understand what is to live with a child with special needs,” Allison Ziering Walmark said.

There are different levels of autism, but symptoms typically include difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication, intense tantrums and a lack of language development. Ethan is diagnosed as being on the "autism spectrum." He's more high-functioning than other autistic people, but still displays some of the symptoms.

Medical professionals have breakthroughs in coverage over the years, but progress has been slow. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 110 children are autistic.

“There’s an epidemic that’s going to explode…and if [the statistics are accurate], these kids are going to turn into grown ups and this is another one of those healthcare issues we’re going to have to face,” Mike Walmark said.

The parents credit the Westport school district for helping Ethan develop. His little sister, Eliza, 4, also helps him out. All of the therapy, whether it’s music, speech or something else, has the same goal in mind.

“We love him,” Mike Walmark said. “We want his life to be as easy as possible so that he can cope with society.

“And society can cope with him,” Alison Ziering Walmark added.

To donate to the E-Team, follow this link. Walk Now for Autism Speaks for Fairfield and Westchester counties is on Sunday, June 5 at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. All event proceeds will, according to the organization, "increase awareness about the growing autism epidemic, fund innovative autism research and family services, and advocate for the needs of individuals with autism and their families."

jill bernstein May 18, 2011 at 11:25 AM
UNBELEIVABLE...My guess is that nobody is going to Forget You, Ethan. Keep doing what you are doing, being an advocate for your son and giving him every opportunity to succeed. He is an amazing young boy, with parents who are obviously amazing as well. written by an 'old friend'
Heather Borden Herve May 18, 2011 at 11:38 AM
Standing "O" for Ethan, Eliza and their parents. Reaching for such heights, and blowing up old labels and stereotypes. Bravo to an amazing kid.
Erin Thibault May 18, 2011 at 02:08 PM
My son Zane is 8 years old and has Autism. His gift is music as well, and playing the drums is his passion. Sometimes he uses his music to escape reality, but we encourage his talent because it gives us such joy to see that smile on his face when he's singing and playing his music. I invested in an electronic drum set for his birthday last week...complete with headphones so he won't disrupt the neighbors :) He loves it!
Kellee Coviak, MT-BC May 18, 2011 at 02:19 PM
It breaks my heart that anybody would tell them to DISCOURAGE the music! Instead, USE the music to engage him! As a music therapist, this is what we are trained to do! With the right therapeutic relationship, music can be used as a tool to help him socially.
Betty Franklin May 18, 2011 at 02:22 PM
AWESOME. Great job Ethan.
Cheryl Downs May 18, 2011 at 02:24 PM
How beautiful is this child! Brought tears to my eyes. I teach children with Autism and I believe that they are a wonderful gift from God. Keep up the good parenting and advocating. You parents are my heros!
Davene Fahy May 18, 2011 at 02:27 PM
Awesome! I just wrote a book about a little boy just like Ethan who is on the autism spectrum. The name of the book is "Anthony Best" and you can find it on Amazon. Please check it out and get back to me with any feedback. Davene Fahy www.davenefahy.com
Michelle May 18, 2011 at 02:39 PM
Bravo Ethan!! I totally get this because our son is 9 and also has Asperger Syndrome with an intense passion for music. He is our middle son, and for him playing by ear comes as natural as my other son's ability at sports. Each child needs to find their "thing" I am so happy you found his. There are many oppty to be in his own world with music, but being able to play for others is a social shared oppty that exists for him to connect with others. What would it be like if he did not have musical interest? How much more he would be in his own world. I say, Keep on playing and parents.. keep on smiling!! Michelle
Sheila May 18, 2011 at 03:42 PM
Go, baby and never stop!
Reid L. Walmark May 18, 2011 at 03:55 PM
Congrats and love from the West Hartford-Farmington-Bristol-Meriden Walmarks! Fine writing, too, skirting between hard news and human interest without compromising what the story is all about -- a great bundle of joy (kid), with a unique set of skills, learning style and support system just now embarking on what probably will be his life's calling. Love, Uncle Reid, Aunt Helen, cousin Ariel
Davene Fahy May 18, 2011 at 05:11 PM
Mr and Mrs Walmark, I would be happy to send you a free copy of my children's picture book, "Anthony Best" a story about autism. If you send me an email with your address, I will have it in the mail right away. Best, Davene limebks@gmail.com Davene Fahy, MA Life Member ASHA www.DaveneFahy.com Buy ANTHONY BEST on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Anthony-Best-Davene-Fahy/dp/0974658952/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1292868203&sr=8-1
Heather Snyder May 18, 2011 at 06:05 PM
Dear Mr. & Mrs. Walmark, Thanks for sharing your beautiful boy & his beautiful music! I am running the NYC Marathon in November for Team Autism Speaks and I wonder whether you would mind if I feature him in the blog I am writing to document the journey. I particularly loved that he played Forget You, because it's one of my favorite training songs for long runs! All the best, Heather Snyder www.UnconditionalPeople.com Twitter: Unconditional_P Facebook: Unconditional People
elizabeth martinez May 19, 2011 at 12:34 AM
WoW!!!!!! i'm very impressed =D with Ethan. I'm currently taking a beginners piano course at Rio Hondo College and o'boy is it difficult for me...i can't seem to get both hands playing at the same time. Ethan is only five and seems to be born with a talent. here is some information i wanted to share since im a CD/ECE major: The theory of multiple intelligences was developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University. Dr. Gardner proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults. These intelligences are: •Linguistic intelligence ("word smart") •Logical-mathematical intelligence ("number/reasoning smart") •Spatial intelligence ("picture smart") •Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart") •Musical intelligence: innate musical talent ("music smart")-----====Ethan is great at!!! •Interpersonal intelligence ("people smart") •Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart") •Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart")
Allison Ziering Walmark May 20, 2011 at 10:00 PM
Heather, We would be HONORED for you to share Ethan's story with others. Please feel free to do so! Congrats on running the Marathon, and for running on Team Autism Speaks! Best, Allison Ziering Walmark
Allison Ziering Walmark May 20, 2011 at 10:03 PM
Elizabeth, Thank you for sharing the Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Dr. Gardner. Very interesting! I am laughing at your beginner piano course, because Ethan will tell me to play a song, expecting that I--like him--can just sit down and have the music at my fingertips. Right now, he is self-teaching Beethoven's Ninth!!! It's pretty incredible. Best, Allison Ziering Walmark
Bita May 21, 2011 at 05:47 AM
Dear Ms Walmark I am the mother of an autistic 6-year-old boy and I have been through almost the same journey as yours, yet I cannot help the tears while watching your sweet little one playing the piano. These kids are angels not like the rest of us. Where I live, autistic children are generally regarded as mentally retarded! and are treated the same! When I see other kids making their headway, I feel a bit relieved. Thanks for sharing this.
Allison Ziering Walmark May 21, 2011 at 11:49 AM
Bita, I am so sorry you are going through so much stress on multiple levels. I am even more sorry that the apparently ignorant people where you live don't get the opportunity to know your son. Clearly, their loss. For better or for worse, I try my best to show people that "different learners" have just as much value to society as "typical learners." As a mom, my job is not just to educate my children, but to help educate others so that they might understand different people, better.

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