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Bands rock Toquet Hall to benefit autism research

Toquet Hall Teen Center was jammin' Saturday night as students from Fairfield's School of Rock took the stage in a concert benefitting Autism Speaks.

The show also showcased 8-year-old Westporter Ethan Walmark, who has autism yet played keyboards for the event with the skill of musical pro. The teen gathering spot was packed with supporters, including Ethan's teachers and therapist, his Kings Highway School classmates, family, friends and area residents.

All money raised by ticket sales, and from sales of snacks donated by the Granola Bar, was donated to Autism Speaks, which works to raise awareness about the condition, as well as to find a cause and cure. The evening performance was a prelude to World Autism Awareness Day, set for Wednesday, April 2. The condition, according to organizers, afflicts a range of people -- in different ways -- on the Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Two bands, Clueless and Pearl, performed at the show, and all of the performers are enrolled at School of Rock.

While a rock concert was planned for the evening's entertainment, Mike Chapin, a drummer, suggested to Ethan's mother, Allison Ziering Walmark, that the event take on greater meaning.

Walmark noted that her son's association with School of Rock, which he joined in September 2012, has helped him evolve both musically and socially. "When we first signed him up at School of Rock, he was intimidated and wanted me to stay with him," she said. "Then, after just a few band rehearsals, he just wanted to hang out with his new friends. His fellow musicians have embraced him."

Ethan's fondness for music began very early on, according to Allison Walmark. "We knew he had a proclivity for music," she said. "When he was a toddler, he started playing `Mary Had a Little Lamb' on a piano. Now, he can hear a song three times and play it. All of tonight's performers, with the exception of Ethan, are in School of Rock's house band, for which you have to be at least 12, but they wanted him to join them as the keyboardist."

The Toquet Hall performance was a big moment for Ethan, said his mother. "Even though he's been on the `Today' show, has met Yoko Ono and others, and been honored at fundraisers in the past, this event was generated by the kids that know him, not an organization."

Robin and Danny Morris of Weston, among the concert attendees, introduced Allison Walmark to Autism Speaks. They are the parents of 26-year-old quadruplets, one of whom has Autism. "The organization becomes a family and support mechanism," said Robin.

For more information about Autism Speaks or to make a donation, visit www.WalkNowForAutismSpeaks.org

Mike Lauterborn

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