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Autism: For me? You shouldn’t have

Allison Ziering Walmark

Some sparkling jewelry, an exotic beach vacation or just some time alone to relax — these items could be on any mom’s birthday wish list. But there are some things — more meaningful things — that parents of children with special needs are probably hoping for this year.

Allison Ziering-Walmark and Robin Morris

Some years ago — never mind how long precisely… my birthday was something to celebrate. Something over-the-top. Something that didn’t just last one day, but an entire week or an entire month if the birthday happened to end in a 0 or 5. Why, just a few years ago, one of my “5” birthdays was held on a Saturday night, in a bowling alley, where the mandated dress code was “black tie creative,” and the food included sliders, pigs in blankets, cheese fries, Twinkies… and champagne.

For much of my adult life, people (and by people, I mean my parents) pushed me to get married. Once I got married, people (see the above parenthesis) pushed us to have children. Once we had children, people (ditto) reminded us ad nauseum that things were no longer about us, but all about the kids.

Why is this not-so-insignificant piece of knowledge always imparted after the children arrive and not before? Would everyone just stop procreating if they knew their days of selfishness, and egocentricity and hedonism were going to end?

Of course, with a special needs child, “it’s all about the kids” rings even more true. It is all about the children… and then some.

Another birthday

Faced with another birthday (April 4, if you must know), my husband and parents have begun their annual quest to subtly try and figure out what material item I would like to receive to commemorate the umpteenth anniversary of my 29th birthday.

Usually, their subtle questioning goes like this: “What gift do you want for your birthday? We don’t know what to get you.”

In theory, I would like one week alone, in complete silence, with no responsibilities, armed only with works of non-fiction and memoirs, good music, Pinot Noir and warm weather. In reality however, after less than 24 hours, I’d miss my husband and children and book a flight back home, as home is where my heart is. (Sounds like a great bumper sticker, no?)

What I really want

Ethan Walmark

So what should my birthday request include? To paraphrase Lloyd Dobler (John Cusak) in Say Anything: I don’t want (you) to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything… I don’t want (you) to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know… I don’t want (you) to do that.” What I do want — the only thing I want and/or need this birthday — is for everyone: Family, friends, relatives, acquaintances, strangers, strange acquaintances, friendly strangers, relative strangers and friendly acquaintances to “pay it forward.”

My wish list

Realizing how busy you all are with your own lives, I’ve taken the liberty to compile a list of “gifts” for you to consider giving me for my birthday.

For special needs children — and children with autism in particular — give the gift of…

  • Compassion
  • Love
  • Acceptance
  • Being an advocate
  • Awareness
  • Illumination (it is, after all, Autism Awareness Month)
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Friendship
  • Humor
  • Selflessness
  • Teaching your own children about autism and special needs

Once you give any and all of the above gifts and still find you want to provide something of material value, then who am I to say, “No!”? You know how I said material gifts don’t matter? Well, I totally lied.

Just remember that I don’t need Tiffany. I don’t need Saks. I don’t even need a private concert with Billy Joel. (Well, I’d make an exception for that… ) Please just make a tax-deductible donation to my son Ethan’s Autism Speaks E-TEAM. To know that your donation will be used to help children get early access to care… or financially support families in need… or award research grants… or urge Congress to step up autism funding… or help find autism’s cause and cure… is the real gift. For all of us.

Image credit: Allison Ziering Walmark

More about autism

Autism rocks the house
An ode to the birthday girl through the eyes of autism
Autism: You gotta be in it to win it

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