May 5, 2012

The Piano Man

Posted in Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , at 10:15 am by autismmommytherapist


He stands by his instrument with total confidence, sliding into his introduction of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” with gusto, and ease. A man strumming on his guitar sits next to him, but as I push play on the YouTube clip, all I can hear are the chords ringing out from the keys, the perfect cadence and rhythm of a song I could sing in my sleep. It sounds pretty close to a rendition by the “Piano Man” himself, and I am completely blown away by the artist who is entertaining me. His name is Ethan Walmark, and he is clearly enthusiastic and engaged by the task at hand, utterly lost in the moment, and in the music.

He is barely six years old. He is also a child with autism.

The video clip above apparently went viral this weekend and was seen by thousands of people, including the author of this classic tune himself. Mr. Joel is quoted in as saying “I think I like his intro to “Piano Man” better than mine. And this kid plays with a lot more energy than me. Maybe he could teach me a few things.”  Of course Ethan’s parents were overwhelmed by the fact that the master himself even saw the clip, much less commented on their son’s talent.

After finding out that Mr. Joel himself had taken the time to respond to what he’d seen, Michael and Allison Walmark are also quoted as saying they were “honored and humbled that Mr. Joel watched Ethan’s video, and took the time to make such gracious comments about his piano playing. If Ethan’s love and joy of music can change one person’s mind about autism, we are happy.”

And really, that comment reflects everything that so many of our families are striving toward. It mirrors our desire to demonstrate to the world all of our children’s gifts, even if they’re not packaged in the form of such a unique and singular talent.

I hope you take a minute to watch Ethan perform, and not just to view the phenomenal technical skill of a boy who’s barely out of pre-school. Ethan, perhaps without knowing it, is a message to the world. Our kids count. They have worth. That really, it’s time to move past tolerance of those who differ from the mainstream, and transcend such a narrow and limiting view. Compassion. Acceptance. Respect. These are the feelings we should be witnessing in our society. These are the emotions which should be reflected in the eyes of all who truly see our children, much as Ethan’s determination and heart are reflected in those ebonies and ivories, which when blended together with care never fail to create a beautiful harmony.

I hope you always continue to “give us a song” Ethan. And as the master himself would say, “we’re all in the mood for a melody, and you’ve got us feeling alright.”

Thank you to Ethan, and to Michael and Allison as well.

The Walmark family will be participating in an upcoming walk for Autism Speaks. If you’d like to donate to this organization, please follow the link below:

October 15, 2010

Potty Planning

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , at 6:14 am by autismmommytherapist

“No way, the potty is closed!” Zach cries as he runs into the living room, my middle-aged ass trying desperately to catch up to him. “No hon, it’s open for your business” I yell at his retreating back, moments before I finally manage to corner him between the couch and the chair. “BUT I DON’T WANT TO GO ON THE POTTY!!!!” he informs me in no uncertain terms, and I realize if we’re to keep true to our “every half-hour potty training protocol” I’m going to have to carry him bodily to the toilet, kicking and screaming as we go. This is not exactly how I envisioned our two-hour break between pre-school and nap to go today, but since I’ve already been through this once with the other kid, the one who took over a year to train, I find myself oddly unmoved by his pleas. Sadly, for Zach, I used up all of my “potty empathy” on his older brother. He’s just going to have to suck it up.

They say all kids are different, and this adage is certainly holding true when it comes to my sons and their spectrum issues, even down to good old pee pee on the potty. When Jeff and I went through this years ago with Justin he showed no fear of releasing his waste to the porcelain god, just an utter disdain at the thought that he was required to make any kind of effort in the removal of his bodily fluids. Frankly, he would have been perfectly happy to have me wipe his ass for the remainder of his life, and there was a period of time when I thought that was exactly what was going to happen. Justin’s issues with the bathroom centered around pure laziness, an unwillingness to relinquish a toy or a moment with his DVD player that he could never get back. He was simply being stubborn about learning a new skill.

Can’t imagine where he picked that up.

My youngest, on the other hand, seems to be terrified of the entire concept. And yes, we read Elmo Goes on the Potty beforehand. We’ve had him cheer for Justin’s peepees and poopies for the last year, even allowed him to flush them away, a treat which satisfies him to this very day. He has a reward system of his choosing in place, one in which the child only has to sprinkle the pristine surface of the toilet water on three separate occasions to get his coveted prize, a new Halloween book (yup, he’s my son). We’ve already aborted this mission once in the spring when he had just turned three (and his poor pre-school teacher was changing sodden clothes five times a day), and I am determined that this time we will stick it out, AS GOD IS MY WITNESS. So far, he’s emulated his brother completely, staying completely dry at school, urinating once in the toilet just to show off, then returning home.

Yes, home, where for the last week I’ve run through three detergent bottles in as many days. I’m so thrilled to put the children of Tide’s employees through college this fall.

I have to admit, when we did this with Justin we had moments of real despair, knowing that although it’s the exception and not the rule, there are adults with autism still in diapers. Apparently, mastering the art of the potty has nothing to do with how intelligent they are, so the fact that Justin was reading at three was no clear predictor of whether or not he’d require Depends. It took thirteen months (but who’s counting) to get him to a semi-independent place in the bathroom, and I have never been more relieved than when his clean clothes finally began to outnumber his dirty on a daily basis. I believe I actually did a happy dance.

No, you will not see it on YouTube.

The truth is I’m much more inured to Zach’s angst because we’ve been successful once before, he is fairly easy to cajole out of terror, and because I’m pretty certain the allure of a Tyrannosaurus Rex Halloween book will outweigh his fears eventually. That, coupled with the fact that I’m also certain he has a thing for blonds and won’t want to be dating in diapers, gives me hope that this child will conquer this skill too, and hopefully before Halloween 2011. Perhaps I’m being premature, but I swear I saw a slight grin through his tantrum the other day when he thought I wasn’t looking, and the giant smile he sported when he finally did tinkle in the appropriate receptacle could not have been faked. I may be going out on a limb here, but I believe, OH I BELIEVE, my diaper days are numbered.

But if you hear loud screams from central Jersey in the next few months, you’ll know I was wrong