Autism and average and schnooks, oh, my!

Oct 15, 2012 at 10:00 a.m. ET

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in the 1990 movie Goodfellas utters this famous line about life in Witness Protection: "I'm an average nobody… a schnook."

Mr. Hill never had a child with autism. But, if he had, he would have known that being the parent of a special needs child is anything but average.

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, my 7-year-old son was personally invited by Autism Speaks co-founders Bob and Suzanne Wright to provide a special musical performance at the Sixth Annual Autism Speaks to Wall Street event. And perform he did! Ethan, along with musician and behavior music teacher Tom Crowley, brought 800 people — including 100 celebrity chefs — to their feet in disbelief and awe.

Michael and I were honored to introduce our son. To paraphrase another famous movie line, “It was an offer we couldn’t refuse.” So, we mustered up our courage — fortified by intense and unconditional love for our son (and maybe a Pinot Noir or two) — and expressed ourselves the only way we could: With truth and honesty.

Imperfectly perfect

(Modified version) “We are overjoyed and humbled to join tonight’s event. We are also here tonight as the proud parents of a smart, handsome, sweet, funny, and musically gifted 7-year-old boy named Ethan Pierce Walmark. Ethan is our son; our first-born.

Ethan is imperfectly perfect. Ethan has autism spectrum disorder.

To learn things instinctual to other children — point a finger… walk up stairs… clap… jump… climb a tree… simply make eye contact! — Ethan has received intense therapeutic services since he was but 1-1/2 years old. Music was the one area in which Ethan never needed instruction; music was part of his soul from the beginning.

Five-and-a-half years later, Ethan is involved in 11 different therapies and classes each week to promote his development. While Ethan’s progress continues to grow, we are painfully aware that we are one of the luckier families; not every child responds positively to therapy — or responds at all.

Upon diagnosis, Michael and I vowed that we would not allow this child — our imperfectly perfect child — to be “just” a statistic. Yes, he is 1 in 88, but, we want his life to have meaning and matter, not only to us, but to others.

It is said that success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. Failure is not an option for Bob and Suzanne and Autism Speaks. Without them, Michael and I would still be drifting at sea without life preservers. And, because of them, Ethan’s success is a team effort.

Tonight, we are a small part of a larger gift.

  • The gift of love.
  • The gift of giving.
  • The gift of gratitude.
  • The gift of your support.
  • The gift of Autism Speaks.
  • And, the gift of our son — a lofty soul entrusted in our care.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are proud to introduce our favorite musician — our imperfectly perfect son, accompanied by musician Tom Crowley — Ethan Walmark!”

Walmark Family Schnooks

If being “an average nobody… a schnook” means that my family can help solve autism’s puzzle and raise millions for research, then call us schnooks. Just call us the Walmark Family Schnooks. We’re OK with that.

Check out Ethan Walmark's "Piano Man" performance at the Autism Speaks to Wall Street: Sixth Annual Celebrity Chef Gala.


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Autism and the fairytale