Author brings 'dragon slayer' message to local schools
by: Susan Frick Carlman
Alyssa Gialamas wasn't going to let the dragon hold her back.
Born with a condition known as arthrogryposis characterized by a contraction of the joints, the Naperville native worked her way through countless hours of therapy to coax her legs into cooperation, beginning when she was tiny. Back then, nobody knew she would one day reign supreme in the water.
Now a sophomore at Loyola University Maryland, Gialamas has set more than a dozen world records among Paralympians. And recently, she has been participating remotely in a video that is part of a presentation spotlighting her physical challenges
To Stacey Glorioso, Gialamas' challenge is similar to those of so many others. They're all dragons to her. Glorioso's message: if Alyssa can overcome her obstacles to move ahead and eventually lead the pack, so can you.
The Plainfield resident and occupational therapist has been bringing that message to local schools, stopping at Kendall, Kingsley and Naper elementary schools in Naperville in the past month. This week, Glorioso was at Grande Park Elementary School in far northwest Plainfield.
Inspired by her recently published book, "Joshua's Dragon," Glorioso relates to her young audiences how the title character takes a class field trip to the zoo. He brings in his backpack the bottle of bubbles, headphones and chewing gum that help him cope when the sensory overload of the dragon – his autism spectrum disorder – interferes. Tapping those tools, and his imagination, Joshua conjures the power to render his dragon silly and easily overcome.
"Joshua went face-to-face with his dragon and said, 'I've had enough!'" Glorioso told the students who packed the school gym, periodically jumping to their feet on cue, to dance, and shrieking with delight as a pair of machines sent soap bubbles airborne over the crowd. "Did you guys know that everybody has a dragon?"
Each of us struggles with something, Glorioso says, whether it's allergies or asthma, shyness or difficulty working with numbers, Down syndrome or being bullied. For some, it's clumsiness. For Grande Park Principal Beth Wulff, she says, it's fear of flying. Everybody has one.
Even Frankfort musician Joe Bauer, Glorioso's sound guy and a member of her "Dragon Crew," had one years ago. He was one of those kids whose ears were generously sized in relation to the rest of his features.
"He would lay in bed at night and worry about what people were going to say to him the next day," Glorioso said.
By high school, she related, Bauer realized he just needed to feel better about himself. So he tried harder – and wound up near the top of his class when he earned his degree in sound engineering. He recently signed with a major record label, she said, as Bauer and his slain dragon smiled from the sound board.
Glorioso said the dragon theme developed over the course of her 17 years in pediatric occupational therapy.
"I've always kind of thought that my kids at work were dragon slayers," she said.
Those patients, overcoming challenges that could have held them back, taught Glorioso lessons that she took home to her own three children, and now brings to school audiences throughout the region. Some 10,000 students have heard the message since the tour launched in mid-October, she said, and Larkin High School in Elgin will present a stage adaptation of the book in February, performing "Joshua's Dragon" for another 1,500 kids.
Copyright © 2016, Naperville Sun
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Plainfield pediatric occupational therapist uses multimedia to empower kids
By DENISE M. BARAN–UNLAND- email@example.com
PLAINFIELD – Not all dragons attack with breaths of fire. In fact, most don’t.
They attack with shyness, anaphylaxis, impaired motor skills, disrupted sensory processing, speech impediments and even big ears.
Just ask Joseph Bauer of Frankfort, the DJ who tours with Stacey Glorioso, a Plainfield-based pediatric occupational therapist, as part of her “dragon crew.” Glorioso also is the author of “Joshua’s Dragon,” the story of an autistic boy who beats his fear of loud noises by pretending the fear is a dragon he’s slayed.
Bauer, who recently finished his tour with Atlantic Records for his album “Illuminate,” according to a news release, said other kids used to make fun of his oversized ears.
But Bauer, the person who creates the sound effects for interactive readings of “Joshua’s Dragon” at school assemblies and then talks to kids about conquering his own dragon, has stood that fear on its head.
“My dad always told me, ‘Tell them you can hear better than they can,’ ” Bauer said. “And now I actually work in audio.”
It’s that kind of attitude that inspired Glorioso to write “Joshua’s Dragon.”
Inspired by young heroes during her 16 years of practice, Glorioso said her young clients have constantly inspired her with their motivation and courage in the face of disabilities: the deaf child who learns to talk; the wheelchair-bound twins who learn to play basketball despite cerebral palsy.
Even Glorioso’s own son, Grant, 11, has a severe peanut allergy, which made him fearful of stepping away from Glorioso. But armed with knowledge of his condition, keen observation skills, common sense and an EpiPen, Grant has learned to face his dragon and live like other kids do.
But Glorioso didn’t write “Joshua’s Dragon” just for them, she said. She wrote it for everyone else, too.
“I always thought that with this push for inclusion, we just never got enough education on autism and cerebral palsy and Down syndrome,” Glorioso said. “And kids have to accept [kids with disabilities], not realizing the dragons these kids face each day.”
But the book is for more than showing elementary school children the difficulties kids with disabilities battle, such as navigating social situations and learning to walk, talk and eat. It’s to acknowledge them as heroes so even kids without disabilities can overcome their own Achilles heel.
“It’s really about recognizing that we are more similar than different,” Glorioso said.
Glorioso released “Joshua’s Dragon” in August and began touring in October. A tour stop is a 45-minute upbeat school assembly, she said. Glorioso estimates that her tours – so far – have reached 10,000 children in preschool through sixth grade.
Sean Smith, principal at Grande Park Elementary School in Plainfield, said Glorioso’s presentation is the most inspiring he’s seen in the four years he’s been with the school. The kids were thoroughly engaged, he said, and they bought books.
“She really inspired the kids to do some self-reflection and to think about their own selves,” Smith said. “She gave them that extra boost and motivation to continue to work hard, and the message that hard work does pay off.”
Glorioso’s dragon presentation is part recorded reading, part music and part video of other dragon slayers. One video presenter is Alyssa Gialamas of Naperville, who was born with arthrogryposis, a disorder that affects the use of joints and muscles, according to the Team USA website.
Gialamas was selected to represent Team USA in swimming at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, where she came in fifth place, the website stated. Gialamas was happy to make the video.
“I really liked the story, and I really liked the underlying theme,” said Gialamas, now 20 and a communications major at the University of Maryland. “Everyone has dragons, but in order to conquer them, you have to go through stuff.”
Despite her upbeat and uplifting exhortations, and despite the life lessons Glorioso brings home to her own children – who include Genna, 9, and Griffin, 4 – Glorioso admits providing occupation therapy to youth with disabilities is not easy.
There are losses. Children pass away. Others don’t progress. Glorioso said she has one 8-year-old client she is simply maintaining. That’s not bad, of course, but Glorioso wishes she could do more.
“It’s an emotionally difficult field, I think,” Glorioso said of pediatric occupational therapy. “But I stay in because the kids are amazing. And no matter how hard the issues are they’re going through, they are always happy. It’s a hard thing to explain. They are happy and they don’t know anything different. And they do what they’re supposed to do, no complaining; they just do it. They’ve always been my inspiration. They’re just amazing kids.”
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Local Author Inspires Oswego Students to Slay Their 'Dragons'
by: Shannon Antinori
Become a dragon slayer: That’s the message local author Stacey Glorioso will have for students at Grande Park Elementary School Thursday.
Glorioso, a pediatric occupational therapist, will bring her “Dragon Crew” to a pep rally at the District 308 campus as part of her book tour for “Joshua’s Dragon.”
Published in August, “Joshua’s Dragon” tells the story of Joshua, a boy with autism who is looking forward to his class trip to the zoo. But the trip will require Joshua to confront his biggest fear: loud noises.
“Just because Joshua has autism, we’re not that different from him,” Glorioso said. “We all have issues that we have to overcome."
Glorioso said the book was inspired by her young clients, who are “dragon slayers” conquering their own challenges.
“I basically took all the life lessons from my kids and put them in one book,” Glorioso explained.
The pep rally isn’t about promoting the book, but about inspiring students to overcome their “dragons,” whether they struggle with shyness, an illness, disability or just the fear of not being accepted.
“Everyone has a dragon, and nobody is perfect,” Glorioso said. “It’s about becoming a dragon slayer, just like Joshua, and … accepting everybody for their differences. Everybody has the strength within to conquer their dragon.”
The upbeat Nov. 19 pep rally will feature live music from Frankfort musician Joseph Bauer, two DJs and four “dragon slayers,” including Alyssa Gialamas, who will tell their inspiring tales of overcoming challenges.
Alyssa was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that prevents joints from moving normally and sometimes causes them to become stuck in one position. Despite her challenges, Alyssa is now a Division 1 swimmer at Loyola University Maryland and has broken 15 American records in swimming. She plans to take part in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, Glorioso said.
Since late September, Glorioso has brought the motivational tour to more than 10,000 students at schools in Plainfield, Naperville, Aurora and Hinsdale.
More stops on the “Joshua’s Dragon” tour are scheduled throughout the country, Glorioso said.
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BOOK: “EVERYONE HAS A DRAGON!”
by: Stacey Glorioso
Everyone has challenges and hurdles in life. Whether it is asthma, allergies, or a fear they will not be accepted by their peers. Everyone has a dragon. As a pediatric occupational therapist for the past 17 years I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of dragon slayers…children who demonstrate perseverance and will to conquer their dragons that taunt, misguide, and barricade them from being the best person they can be. These dragon slayers have taught me a life lesson that I am so grateful for… with hard work and determination, even life’s biggest dragons can be defeated.
It was this life lesson that inspired me to create the characters, Joshua and his Dragon, in my picture book, Joshua’s Dragon. Joshua, a courageous boy who has autism, teaches all children that if he can take on the dragon of his disability, then they too have the strength within to conquer theirs.
Becoming a Dragon Slayer is no small feat. Dragon Slayers are brave and honest, but most importantly, these children follow four basic rules…come up with a plan of attack, always try 100%, never give up, and never make fun of someone for having a dragon.
First, a true dragon slayer must come up with a plan of attack. A child who has a special need will likely have a team of professionals to help create their plan of attack. The team will determine the problem, set a goal, come up with strategies, and then… GAME ON DRAGON. Like many children who have autism, Joshua doesn’t like loud noises. But he is determined to go on a field trip to the zoo…he wants to see a lion. When confronted by a dragon who likes to make loud noises, Joshua strategically comes up with ways to stop him. He proves himself as brave as the lion he so desires.
Rule number two…always try 100%. Every day I watch children face physical and cognitive dragons that could wear down an able bodied adult, yet they give it their all without a moment’s thought. This life lesson applies to all of us, especially children. If Grant lets his frustration with reading wear him down, and if he doesn’t follow through with the strategies set in place (study every night, read to parents, etc.) then his dragon thinks he is smarter than him. Grant will never meet his goal…to learn how to read proficiently. Joshua’s desire to see a lion was so strong that he went to the zoo despite knowing how loud it would become. Once confronted with loud noises, Joshua gave 100% effort, and tried his hardest to halt the dragon in his tracks. Children who have autism must find a way to keep their dragons under control or they wouldn’t have a fulfilled life. Giving 100% effort every day is not an option.
Rule number three to becoming a true dragon slayer…never give up! Children who have a special need never surrender to their dragons. If Matthew & Jeffrey, twin six year-old boys with cerebral palsy, want to learn how to walk, they can’t give up trying, even when it becomes discouraging, painful, and
challenging. They will never be able to keep up with their peers. Sure trying out for a travel basketball team and not making the cut is frustrating and discouraging to nine year-old Griffin. But if he gives up trying, gives up setting goals on how to become a stronger player, then he risks never knowing what his potential is. He will never know if he could have made the team the following season.
The last rule to becoming a true dragon slayer… never make fun of someone for having a dragon! No one is perfect, even when it appears that way from the outside. Everyone has dragons, most likely more than one. This is what makes us similar to each other. This is what makes us similar to Joshua. By making fun of someone for having a dragon, we are saying we are better than them. If everyone has a dragon…than everyone is EQUAL.
Becoming a true dragon slayer takes hard work, determination, will, and perseverance. To all my children who have special needs, and to Joshua, thank you for showing me the way. Now I get to share your rules with all children. Dragon slayers…stand tall and brave!
Background information: My name is Stacey Glorioso and I am a pediatric occupational therapist and author of the picture book, Joshua’s Dragon. We began our tour in mid-September and as of November 10th, we have been able to inspire over 10,000 children educating them on autism and other disabilities in a pep rally setting. This is truly the first of its kind. Using true stories of brave children who rose against all odds to defeat their dragon despite the immensity of obstacles along the way, we inspire all children to reflect upon their own personal dragons to come up with a plan of attack.
Want to find out more about the book and the activities, please visit http://www.joshuasdragon.com
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Larkin High dance academy to spread autism awareness Feb. 24-25
The VPAA Dance Academy at Larkin High School in Elgin is proud to spread autism awareness in a way never been done before.
On Wednesday, Feb. 24, and Thursday, Feb. 25, Elgin Area School District U-46 will bus in 1,400 elementary and middle school students to Larkin High School for a "Bring a Book to Life" production, a dance adaptation of "Joshua's Dragon."
"This year's performance is different because the main character in our production has autism," reports Margaret Palmer, one of two directors of the VPAA. "We sold out of our matinee shows in under 2 hours. This has never been done before."
Local pediatric occupational therapist and author Stacey Glorioso will make a special appearance to educate the children about autism in a condensed version of her popular pep rally series.
"Joshua's Dragon," a picture book about a boy and his dragon (autism), has been making its way through Illinois as part of a motivational pep rally tour, "Everyone Has a Dragon."
Inspiring over 10,000 children in their first month, local pediatric occupational therapist and author Stacey Glorioso and her Dragon Crew are closing the gap between children with disabilities and their typically developing peers.
Using multimedia to educate elementary students about autism and other disabilities, Glorioso is encouraging children to come up with a plan of attack against their own personal dragons.
"Using sound effects and music from our assembly, the VPAA Dance Academy's production of 'Joshua's Dragon' will allow children to put themselves in Joshua's shoes, seeing life through the eyes of a child who has autism," Glorioso stated.
Margaret Palmer explains, "We are honored to use the art of dance to visually demonstrate to children what Joshua experiences."
"The story touches our hearts and we hope to bring a lively, entertaining, and visceral experience to our audience while exposing them to seeming fragility yet in reality great strength children like Joshua poses."
Visit www.joshuasdragon.com to learn more about the performance and upcoming events.
The production for U-46 elementary/middle school students will take place at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24, and 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 25 (sold out). Public performances will take place at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26, and 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27.
Tickets will become available the day of the show. Cost is $8 or $5 for students/seniors.
For information about the performance, contact Kelly Hill or Margaret Palmer, directors of the VPAA, at KellyHill@u-46.org or MargaretPalmer@u-46.org.
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Larkin bringing 'Joshua's Dragon' book on autism to life
by: Beth Mistretta
Larkin High School's annual "Bring a Book to Life" program faces an exciting challenge this year.
For 16 years, the school's Visual and Performing Arts Academy has taken children's classics like "Peter Pan" or "Mary Poppins" and brought them to the stage with a dance adaptation.
But this week, the VPAA dancers will perform a new book that is unfamiliar to audiences -- and that tackles an important issue.
"Joshua's Dragon" is a picture book written by local pediatric occupational therapist and author Stacey Glorioso, and the tale follows a boy who works to slay his metaphorical dragon: autism.
Because the book is new to both the audience and the dancers, VPAA Co-directors Kelly Hill, Margaret Palmer and their students, have been able to use extra creativity in bringing "Joshua's Dragon" to the stage.
"We were really able to use our own imaginations," Hill said. "We were able to create dances around scenes depicted in the book that are part of Joshua's imagination.
"With more well-known stories, we typically have to present something more like a musical: you must stick to the story and music everyone knows," she adds. "With this, we got to find our own music that was the right to fit the mood, since so much of the story is really Joshua's feelings. Everything had to really hit home in our hearts."
Larkin's VPAA students have been practicing all year for this performance, which is a critical part of their grade. They will perform shows for the public at 7 p.m. Friday and 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26-27, at the school.
Dancers will also perform private matinees for 1,400 elementary and middle school students from Elgin Area School District U-46 on Wednesday and Thursday.
For the student matinees, author Glorioso will attend and present a condensed version of her motivational pep rally, "Everyone Has a Dragon."
This rally aims to close the gap between children with disabilities and their typically developing peers. Glorioso and her "Dragon Crew" have been traveling throughout Illinois using multimedia to educate elementary students about autism and other disabilities -- and encouraging them to come up with a plan of attack against their own personal dragons.
"Her whole family has been involved in the creation of the book and it's so impressive," Palmer said. "Her young son did some voice overs for the pep rally, others contributed vocals to the songs, composed music or created artwork. Stacey has created something special and it's a great example of what you can accomplish when you are passionate about a cause."
Both Palmer and Hill say "Joshua's Dragon" will resonate with everyone, whether they are directly affected by autism or not. The book, they say, works around the concept that everyone has a dragon they must conquer in order live a full life.
"We were very touched by the story," Hill said. "We all have a challenge we must overcome. For Joshua, it's loud sounds. For others, it may be being shy or clumsy. But we can all conquer it if we believe in ourselves."
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JT Manning Elementary School Students Learn to Conquer Dragons
by: SUBURBAN LIFE MEDIA
WESTMONT – Manning Elementary School in Westmont recently celebrated reading week with a variety of special events based on the theme “All Fired Up About Reading,” highlighted by a visit from Stacey Glorioso, author of “Joshua’s Dragon.”
In the book, she shares the story of an autistic boy who is fearful of loud noises. He refers to that fear as his dragon, which he must conquer to live life to the fullest. The message of the assembly was that everyone has dragons or challenges to conquer ranging from allergies to shyness, the news release stated.
The release summarized the author’s sentiment: “We are all equal. There are four rules for all of us to become a dragon slayer. First, come up with a plan of attack. Then, never give up. Next, you must always give your all, 100 percent. Finally, never make fun of someone for having a dragon, because we all are equal and have dragons of our own.”
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Local Author Inspires Kids to ‘Slay Their Dragons’
by: Kristen Thometz
Pediatric occupational therapist and author Stacey Glorioso wants to teach children how to become dragon defenders. In her book, “Joshua’s Dragon,” the story’s namesake character leads the way and shows how he defeats his dragon—overcoming his fear of loud noises.
Though it’s not explicitly stated in the book, Joshua is assumed to have autism spectrum disorder.
“I didn’t want it to be about autism. I wanted it to be about someone slaying one of his challenges—one of his dragons,” Glorioso said of the book. “Although I’m using it to educate kids on disabilities, my main focus is how strong Joshua is and what he did and how he came up with a plan of attack to overcome his challenges.”
The dragon Joshua faces could also relate to a child with a sensory integration disorder or cerebral palsy, Glorioso adds.
“When we do assemblies, we say that Joshua has autism and we say what autism is, and that one of the symptoms is Joshua doesn’t like loud noises,” she said.
Stacey Glorioso’s book, “Joshua’s Dragon,” tells how Joshua, a child who is presumed to have autism, overcomes his fear of loud noises.
You call the obstacles and challenges children with disabilities face dragons. Why?
Stacey Glorioso: I thought of a dragon defender as a pretty brave person who constantly has to slay this big animal, this thing that’s constantly trying to stop him from doing what he wants. It’s an analogy I made up in my head a long time ago. Children with cerebral palsy, autism or even a learning disability have lots of challenges. Dragons are what I call them.
Was Joshua based on anyone in particular?
Glorioso: Joshua is based on a combination of all my kids that I treat. Joshua was just a character and I wanted to pull in some traits I saw with all of my children with autism. Joshua isn’t inspired by one particular person.
What inspired you to create “Joshua’s Dragon”?
Glorioso: Throughout my career, I considered my [young patients] dragon defenders that were constantly at bat with their dragons. I was always so amazed at how much perseverance they had to keep going despite the immensity of the obstacles in their way. I wanted to take their messages and their life lessons and teach them to other children.
When did you get the idea of using this analogy in a book?
Glorioso: Years ago, I set a goal for myself: I wanted to educate kids on disabilities. I always felt when I went into the school settings there wasn’t a lot of understanding about children with disabilities. Students were empathetic, but they didn’t have a clear understanding. I thought a book would be a good medium to get into the schools and do some education on this.
Now, I’m kind of using Joshua as a bridge to discussing disabilities and mainly to talk about how everyone has a dragon. No one is perfect. Joshua’s dragon is that he’s sensitive to loud noises, and mine might be something else, and we’re not all that different from each other.
What are the assemblies of “Joshua’s Dragon” like?
Glorioso: The assembly is more of a pep rally. I just wanted this to be something very memorable for every child. I didn’t want it to be just an author visit where I come in and talk about the book.
We discuss and self-analyze ourselves and talk about what dragons we’d like to overcome this year. It’s about problem-solving strategies and coming up with a plan of attack against our own personal dragon.
There are music videos, hundreds of different sound effects and bubbles that go over the children’s heads. DJs come in with me and they hand out “Joshua’s Dragon” stuff to the children. It’s just loads of fun. At the same time, it’s inspirational because we use real life children as examples of how they overcame obstacles or dragons in their lives.
Do you notice a difference in the students after the assemblies?
Glorioso: Huge difference. I would say the main difference is that they understand first of all what autism is. That’s a big difference. Some say they know what it is, but when we’re done they put a face to autism with Joshua. Children have a general understanding and an empathy for what he’s going through.
We talk about how important it is not to make fun of somebody else’s dragon, and they understand everyone is equal because we all have dragons. That’s a powerful statement when we’re talking about children because there’s a lot of bullying in school these days. When everyone admits to certain dragons, kids look around and see, “Wow, he has something going on too. And he’s not any better than I am.”
What do you hope people, in particular children, take away from the book?
Glorioso: What I would want kids to take away is that no matter what challenges or obstacles you face, you have the ability to overcome even life’s biggest challenges. By seeing some of these kids and all of their obstacles and challenges that they were able to overcome, I hope kids take away that they can do that too. If Joshua’s able to overcome all of his challenges then so can I.
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