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An autism-free summer

Allison Ziering Walmark

Summer is the perfect time to relax and forget about all your worries. So was it possible for this mom to take a month or two away from talking, writing and obsessing about autism?

Mom relaxing in a hammock

Several years ago, a dear friend expected to have what she termed the “Summer of 49.” In family-friendly terms, this referred to the number of days and nights my friend and her husband were to get “biblical”, as their two boys were at seven-week long sleepaway camps.

Their best laid plans (no pun intended) got thwarted however, as the Summer of 49 turned into the Summer of 2 when my friend tripped down a flight of stairs two days into their empty nest period, fractured her coccyx, got a concussion, and was ordered to bed rest. Not exactly the way she envisioned using her bed.

My own Summer of 49

This summer, I decided that I too would have a Summer of 49. However, mine would involve a concerted effort on my part to spend 49 days of summer without autism. A whole 49 days in which I wouldn’t write about, talk about, raise money for or obsess about autism. Well, that plan also lasted a full two days before the sleepless nights began.

Disclosure: For the first summer since Ethan began school, we chose not to send him to ESY (Extended School Year), and instead send him full-time to the day camp he and his sister love. Basically the responsibility for Ethan’s summer progress was squarely on my shoulder. If Ethan regressed educationally over the summer, ain’t no one to blame but me. No pressure.

What I did on my summer vacation

Ethan Walmark in concert

In honor of school children everywhere, here’s what I did on my summer vacation (allegedly without autism):

  • Online shopped — and online returned — until even I was sick of shopping.
  • Discovered that my left breast is larger than my right breast. Conversely, my right foot is larger than my left foot. Conspiracy? You make the call.
  • Dealt with my 6-year-old daughter’s night terrors for two weeks, and wondered why she had to yell, “Mommy! Mommy!” instead of “Daddy! Daddy!” at 2:00 a.m.?
  • Awakened by my daughter every morning with the following song:
    Good morning dear Earth,
    Good morning dear sun,
    Good morning dear trees,
    And the flowers, everyone.
    Good morning dear bees,
    And the birds in the trees,
    Good morning to you,
    And good morning to me.
  • Took kids on the New York City Circle Line. They bet on whether or not the Statue of Liberty would poop when we passed. Sacrebleu! (She did not.)
  • Watched Ethan and his band perform Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” at the School of Rock Best of NYC show. He was the youngest musician there.
  • Chauffeured both kids to day camp five days a week. While at camp, both kids performed in
    • Circus of the Kids (Great OT for Ethan, so that base was covered)
    • Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” Ethan was the ship’s pilot and Eliza was Flotsam, sea-witch Ursula’s right-hand moray eel. (Ethan had to memorize the script, songs and more than a few solo parts. Surely that counts as speech and reading comprehension, no?)
    • Ethan and his peers took an overnight trip to Club Getaway, his first night away without his family. Well, it would have been his first night away from his family if I didn’t reserve and sleep in a private bunk on the other side of the grounds in the event Ethan had separation anxiety in the middle of the night. (Regardless, since he spent most of the time with his bunkmates that counts as major socialization.)
  • After 6 1/2 hours daily of camp, Ethan rallied to make nine after-camp therapies per week — twice a day on Monday, Tuesday and Saturday and once a day on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday… and on Sunday, he rested. Me? Not so much.
  • Forced to listen to Ethan and Eliza rehearse and re-rehearse “The Cup Song” ad nauseam. Multiply ad nauseam by 500, which will give you the amount of times Taylor Swift songs were sung in my home.
  • Worked with the School of Rock and the Capitol Theatre to create a concert to benefit autism charities.
  • Ate at the local Sherwood Diner no less than four times a week. My kids are like Norm from Cheers… everybody knows their name. (Promoted positive nutritional habits, even if Ethan’s palate only includes chicken tenders, Belgian waffles, and tuna fish sandwiches. I sure hope that the multi-grain toast offsets mercury.)
  • Ian Ziering - SharknadoWatched the success of my cousin Ian Ziering’s star role in Sharknado. You’d think a man who saved Los Angeles from man-eating sharks could find a viable treatment and/or cure for autism. No such luck. Also tried to revert to my maiden name to see if I could get preferential treatment through Sharknado association. I didn’t… and my husband told me to “cut it out.”
  • Helped the McCarton Foundation with their Genius of Autism event. (Ethan will once again be honored this year!)
  • Met with moms of recently diagnosed children and moms who are the same journey my family is on. Together, we strategized ways to raise funds and educate the public about autism.
  • Met with a very philanthropic, indefatigable friend (who has two typical children) to plan an April autism fundraiser in town to coincide with World Autism Awareness Day.
  • Planned meetings with friends to re-introduce Spanstock, a one-night music festival to benefit Autism Speaks. After a two-year break, Spanstock IV is back — maybe — baby!
  • Drove the kids and my niece to Hersheypark, as Ethan was the invited entertainer at a golf tournament to benefit Autism Speaks, hosted by Just Cabinets and Furniture & More’s Ted and Lorrie Bernstein. (Amusement park rides = vestibular and proprioceptive input in my book.)
  • Met John Mayer backstage at one of his concerts. That’s right. The. John. Clayton. Freakin’. Mayer. When John first spotted Ethan, he said, “Hey, I know you. You’re the internet sensation.”
  • Took our fourth annual consecutive Disneyland excursion. On the ten-total-hour plane ride, Ethan and I got reacquainted with math from a huge binder his special education teacher gave to me at the end of school. Just for the record, I knew every single one of those second grade math questions. Can’t guarantee I’ll know third grade level math, however. Let’s take a wait and watch approach.

Eliza and Ethan Walmark at Disneyland

Finally, on August 27, 2013, Michael and I kissed both kids as we walked them onto their respective school buses. I never realized how draining my Summer of 49 without autism could be. Thank you educators and therapists. They’re all yours!

Image credit: Allison Ziering-Walmark; Ian Ziering image:

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