Take 5 to Inspire – a message of hope
By Lori Ciccarelli-Stotko, MPS, Certified Spiritual Director
We are living in an age of loneliness. It is an invisible epidemic that affects 60 million Americans. According to research, it is a health risk that can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system, increase risk for vascular, inflammatory and heart diseases. Studies show loneliness increases the risk for early death by 45%. Studies also indicate lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. Our health is the integration of mind, body, soul.
Did you know that being part of a “community” is actually physically healthy? Political Scientist & Professor at Harvard University, Dr. Robert Putnam, completed extensive research on “community.” His research indicates we are made to live in community. We have a relational identity. He says if you joined a community right now, it will literally cut the odds of dying in half within the next year. Research shows isolation leads to depression and anxiety. Our need to connect is as fundamental as our need for food and water. Where do you connect? Where do you find community? Golf buddies? Ski or hiking clubs? Church or book clubs?
My personal ministry is modeled after the ministry of Jesus focused on the spirit of humanity – relationship, community outreach, serving. I view Jesus as one of our first social workers in history. He reached out to his communities to serve others displaying love and compassion. As a hospital Spiritual Care Chaplain, I see so many patients that are alone, hungry, hurting.
We are to show hospitality to one another; it’s biblical. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love, honor one another above yourself, practice hospitality,” Romans 12:10. And we are to do this without grumbling (I Peter 4:9). We are also instructed to encourage one another building each other up, showing respect to everyone (I Thessalonians 5:11 and I Peter 2:17).
Did you know that as we serve others we actually become healthier? Volunteering gets us outside of ourselves. Research studies show when we serve, we are less likely to develop hypertension. It also decreases depression and anxiety as it provides a sense of purpose. Studies indicate those who volunteer live longer than their non-volunteering peers.
Mammoth Hospital has partnered with local community organizations that have the mission to serve like faith-based organizations (many churches) and service clubs. Community volunteers from these organizations assist our patients upon discharge to help with running errands, provide assistance with meals or stop by to lend a hand or listening ear. We live in an age of loneliness; it’s not healthy. The next time your church or community service group hosts a potluck to fellowship amongst members, reach out and invite your neighbor. We have neighborhoods full of hungry community members. The smallest gestures of kindness can transform a life. It could be yours. “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” Mahatma Gandhi.
Article first published in the Mammoth Times in Mammoth Lakes, California; 10/13/2016
by Lori Ciccarelli-Stotko, MPS; Certified Spiritual Director
We live in a time when we’ve created more time because of technology. At first it was liberating making life easier with constant connection. However; due to becoming slaves to electronics, we have filled our time back up with more technology. We have become a culture of multitasking contributing to cognitive overload, stress and burnout. Darren Hardy, publisher of Success Magazine and author of The Compound Effect, says there is no such thing as multitasking. It’s not cognitively possible. It’s called switching that can bring the IQ down 10 points. According to research from the University of California Irvine, people tend to switch activities an alarming every three minutes during the course of a typical workday. Dr. Daniel Goleman author of The Meditative Mind and Emotional Intelligence states, “There’s been this silent, invisible ratcheting up of invasion of our space. You’ve got your devices that follow you everywhere.” Recent studies indicate the average American consumes 13-plus hours of media a day defined by electronic devices. Did you know the amount of information we receive in one day is more than the information one received over a lifetime back in the early 1900s?
Stress impacts all systems; musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and respiratory. Research shows stress untreated can lead to serious illness that include heart disease, depression, anxiety, suppression of the immune system, eating disorders, cancer and diabetes. The U.S. Surgeon General reports 80% of non-traumatic deaths in this country are stress-related. According to the American Psychological Association, 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress, and 75%-90% of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
Self-care (soul care) is essential to finding balance in our lives. Where do you find happiness? What do you enjoy? Where do you find inner strength? Some think taking “me” time is selfish. It’s vital to take self-care time daily as it’s a disservice to others when we operate from a depleted battery.
Meditation with relaxing deep breathing can help reduce tension and stress, but also releases endorphins the “feel good” hormone in our brains as does walking, biking, swimming, laughing and dancing. I am re-energized when I take soul time in the morning before heading to work. I spend 30 minutes to two hours quieting my mind through prayer and meditation, reading uplifting spiritual books, journals, and the Bible. I also re-energize by taking a hike or walk during my lunch break or after work taking advantage of our big beautiful backyard!
Ironically, we need to unplug to recharge. It’s also biblical, “Be still and know that I am God,” Psalm 46:10 is an invitation to quiet the mind, breathe and reflect. Take a “device” Sabbath or “digital” fast and unplug for 24 hours to reflect, restore, renew promoting harmony and balance as mind, body and soul are all connected. Give yourself permission for self-care, some soul time. Practicing Feng Shui for your soul is essential for optimal health.
Article first published in Mammoth Times, Mammoth Lakes, CA 9/15/2016
by Lori Ciccarelli-Stotko, MPS; Certified Spiritual Director
“Give others all that is alive in us – our interest, understanding, our knowledge, our humor, everything in us that’s good. In doing so, we enhance the sense of aliveness in others while enhancing our own. When we give, we get a ‘heightened vitality’ of what it means to be human,” – Erich Fromm, psychologist and author
As I watch the snow falling outside my window, I get a warm feeling inside. I’m reminded of the holiday season; the Christmas spirit.
What is the Christmas spirit? What comes to mind immediately for me is the spirit of giving. When I google the “spirit of giving,” information points to the holidays; the spirit of Christmas. I can hypothesize that the Christmas spirit is the spirit of giving. What does the “spirit” have to do with this?
Spiritual Intelligence – Spiritual Awareness
In prior blogs, I have focused on elevating emotional intelligence (EQ) which equates to social competence; a challenge for our kids on the autism spectrum or other special needs because the concept is very abstract. I shared tools to help make the concept more concrete. But what about spiritual intelligence? Spiritual awareness? We talk about IQ and EQ; but SQ? Not much is offered on spiritual intelligence.
We must not confuse spiritual with religious. Religion is more cognitive (head), more about tradition and rituals, or organized beliefs. I believe “spiritual” is from the heart; our core, our soul. When we hear about the “heart” of an organization, or the “heart” of our culture, we are talking about the core values; beliefs that are held deeply giving meaningful purpose. Integrity. Character. Respect. Dignity. Virtue. Moral excellence. Honor. Goodness. Purity. Compassion. Forgiveness. Altruism.
Is it our conscience? A heightened awareness? As Fromm puts it, “All that is alive in us!” How do we teach these very “abstract” core values to our kids on the spectrum? Let’s make them more concrete or more relatable.
Creating a Culture
How can we teach our kids the spirit of giving? Let’s create a culture. A culture of giving. When I was a teenager back in the ‘70s, my family “adopted” a Vietnamese family for the holidays. Our family of six decided to forego the Christmas-gift exchange between us and the elaborate traditional Christmas dinner for a night of celebration with our new adopted family of four. We cooked up our favorite “pigs in a blanket” accompanied by baked beans and Christmas cookies. Then we proudly presented our beautifully wrapped gifts to our guests reflecting our “gift to give” showing our spirit of giving.
Decades later, my siblings and I reminisce that this “experience” was the best Christmas ever. My parents deliberately created an “experience” we will never forget. When I think back, I get that warm feeling inside. A Christmas-spirit feeling. A giving heart.
Make it Purposeful
From Teaching Kids the Spirit of Giving, Parenting 101, author Julie Watson Smith shares these ideas:
- Incorporate “giving” into activities your child already participates in like play-dates, church, or scout-troop activities. Sing at a convalescent hospital or collect canned food donating to the local food bank or food drive.
- Acknowledge the little things they already do like when they smile at someone, or share a friendly word.
- Your child can clean out her closet or toy box and give to those in need.
- Let your child choose a cause to support. Make it a family affair.
Author Tess Marshall of The Bold Life states that you can give “yourself” by sharing your talents, a visit, a phone call, a card, and the gift of laughter which brings health and happiness to others. Giving affection or encouragement can be life changing. Even an invitation to do something is a gift of giving.
Use Trigger Words
In my previous life as an elementary school teacher, I used trigger words. During the school year if one of my students was being a little stingy or self-centered, I would have fun by saying “Where’s that Christmas spirit?” My students would giggle because it wasn’t Christmas time, but would associate it with the “gift of giving.”
Because of my heightened Christian spiritual awareness, I believe what we give we receive back ten-fold; blessings. A transformation of the heart. The effects of giving are very beneficial spiritually, emotionally and psychologically creating a warm feeling inside. The Christmas spirit. Fromm states it beautifully, “When we give, we get a ‘heightened vitality’ of what it means to be human.” Humanity.
This article first published at:
The Gift that keeps Giving – Specialism
by Lori Ciccarelli-Stotko, MPS
All parents want independence for their children. I am no different. I desire for my son with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to live independently with success; with much dedication and effort, he is doing just that. However, we had to actively teach life skills to create his success for independence. We had to be intentional.
Some children have to be taught just about everything, which includes basic life skills, and sometimes it takes them longer to master some of the skills that we take for granted. It was a wake-up call for me when my now grown son was 11, walking through a parking lot and nearly hit by a car because he was oblivious to his surroundings, mesmerized by his own world. I decided then that I needed to focus on life skills if I was going to give my son tools for independence.
Occupational therapy is not just for young kids with sensory issues. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) defines the practice of occupational therapy as “the therapeutic use of occupations, including everyday life activities with individuals, groups, populations, or organizations to support participation, performance, and function in roles and situations in home, school, workplace, community, and other settings.”
Learning life skills was the objective for my son’s occupational therapist when he was a teen. Our Occupational Therapist focused on tasks like:
- washing his laundry,
- basic cooking skills,
- money & banking matters, and
- chores around the house.
She also taught my son how to read the schedules and maps for the local public transportation system. This really paid off when he lived independently at college and didn’t drive.
Success didn’t happen over night, it took years of rote and repetition for it to stick.
It’s important to make abstract concepts concrete for our kids. My son’s high school speech-language therapist used social games to help practice social-communicative skills like “Problem Solver” and “Communicate” games. These games helped teach pragmatics (social language) and reinforced social-communicative skills in typical situations for teens.
Back then, we used the Hidden Curriculum One-A-Day Calendar – items for understanding unstated rules in social situations created by Brenda Smith Myles. Unfortunately, the calendar is no longer in publication. However, many of the daily suggestions found in the calendar can be found in the book, The Hidden Curriculum and Other Everyday Challenges for Elementary-Age Children With High-Functioning Autism.
The suggestions found in this book helped make learning for “hidden curriculum items” a natural and painless part of every day life. What is hidden curriculum? The author states, “it refers to unstated rules or customs that, if not understood, can make the world a confusing place and make us feel isolated…” My son and I would read, discuss, and practice one a day.
Another resource we recommend is a book filled with exercises and worksheets titled Life Skills Activities for Secondary Students with Special Needs This book offers teachers and parents a unique collection of more than 200 worksheets to help adolescents with special needs build the life skills they need to achieve independence and succeed in everyday life. The book provides 22 complete teaching units focusing on basic life skills such as:
- handling money,
- succeeding at school,
- using the Internet safely,
- getting and keeping a job,
- and much more
On a daily basis, I took advantage of every day life situations and turned them into learning opportunities. My adult son continues to learn life skills with the support of a safe environment. I highly encourage every parent and teacher to incorporate a life skills learning environment throughout the day to help kids with social cognitive deficit disorders achieve success for independence.
A version of this article was first published: Specialism Teach Life Skills
by Lori Ciccarelli-Stotko, MPS
According to the Autism Sourcebook by Karen Siff Exkorn, “stimming” or self stimulatory behavior is a repetitive behavior that releases opiate-like substances in the brain called beta-endorphins which can produce either a euphoric or anesthetic effect. Stimming can create a feeling of tranquility for those who are feeling over-stimulated.
Typical Stimming Behaviors Include:
- hand flapping;
- rocking back and forth or side-to-side;
- lining up objects;
- repeating portions of videos, books, or songs at inappropriate times; or
- tapping ears.
Is Stimming Bad?
Like everything, there is an appropriate time and place. Stimming serves a purpose. It helps to calm the nervous system and aids in concentration or focus. I believe we all stim to some degree. In meetings at work, I look around the conference room and see peers clicking pens, shaking a foot or leg, or tapping on the table. I am guilty. I tend to rub my thumb nail when I am reading or concentrating on a lecture. Like anything, if it becomes unsafe or causes harm to anyone then it is not okay. Or, if stimming is causing the person to be overly inflexible or it interferes with everyday life, then it is not healthy.
Substitute Inappropriate Stimming
The Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking clinic recommended that my son have a “fidget” in his pocket. Examples of fidget are a squishy ball or rocks to rub. The rule was that he couldn’t bring it out of his pocket during class for others to see. This helped calm his nervous system allowing him to concentrate.
When my son with autism spectrum disorder was a small child, we placed a disc swing in the yard hanging from a tree. He would self-regulate by spinning on the swing, then go play, spin, play, etc. It helped him focus. Now as an adult, he controls his stimming by jumping on a trampoline or paces at appropriate times.
I believe in creating a proactive plan to help prevent meltdowns. A powerful tool is the Incredible 5-point Scale written by Kari Dunn Buron and Mitzi Curtis. Put a plan in place so your child can self regulate. Maybe an option is that when she feels like stimming, she can go to a private place. Help children learn to stim in appropriate ways to get them to the place of tranquility.
by Lori Ciccarelli-Stotko, MPS
Experts in the field of leadership believe that truly effective leaders possess a high level of emotional intelligence or emotional quotient (EQ) focusing on self and relationship management. It’s about social competence. Raising a child with autism has assisted with elevating my own emotional intelligence.
The 5 Components of EQ
Dr. Daniel Goleman, psychologist, brought EQ to the mainstream public in 1995. His research concluded that EQ is made up of five components:
- empathy and
- social skills.
Those with a high sense of self-awareness understand how their emotions impact others and their job performance; they can regulate their feelings successfully. How we manage our emotions or regulate them makes the difference for leadership success. Goleman states that without EQ, a person can have the best training, analytical mind and be good technically, but won’t make a great leader. Some leaders possess these traits naturally; however, can EQ be learned?
How to Teach EQ
As I started training leaders in the corporate setting with regard to EQ, I realized that there was not much offered on “how” to raise EQ. There are countless articles and books that address “what” it is but no real tools offered to improve EQ. I started thinking about tools used with Social Cognitive Deficit Disorders (SCDD) since it is about social competence. Over the decades these tools became ingrained in me as I taught my son, which in turn assisted to raised my own EQ. The best way to learn is to teach. Since the components that support EQ equate to social competence, then why couldn’t these tools used for SCDD work to raise EQ? I started bringing forward these techniques in my leadership and customer service development trainings which have proven to be very successful. Those who attend my classes are excited to head back to their jobs with tools for success.
- Empathy: Tools that have shown success include Michelle Garcia Winners’ perspective-taking behavioral map to enhance empathy. This tool helps one visually and concretely map out behaviors by showing “how” it can make others feel and the consequences or outcomes associated with them. Taking it a step further with my audiences, I ask them to develop a plan in which to display empathy better the next time.
- Social Skills: Another effective strategy to help develop appropriate social skills was created by Winners; imaginary “friend files” in the brain. This technique helps store information about others to help initiate conversations. This interactive exercise of getting to know someone by interviewing them, writing down three items about that person, and then storing the information in an imaginary file in the brain help to initiate future conversations. Also, one can keep a journal or card index file to help organize “friend” information.
- Self Regulation: The Incredible 5-point Scale developed by Kari Dunn Buron and Mitzi Curtis can help regulate moods recognizing and managing emotional responses. This tool focuses on the “how” by rating the mood on a scale according to intensity and matching it to solutions. According to the authors, how we act, react, and interact in difficult situations depends on our ability to quickly and efficiently assess what is happening and consider the consequences of our actions. I have found this tool to be extremely effective.
As we focus on social competence for our kids with Social Cognitive Deficit Disorders, we can also benefit by raising our own emotional intelligence. A key to effective leadership.
by Lori Ciccarelli-Stotko, MPS
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandi
Too often we are quick to point the finger blaming others. “Why can’t those people understand my situation? Can’t they try walking in my shoes?”
We as parents of special needs children tend to be less tolerant of our church families and school professionals when they don’t know how to deal with our kids. Sometimes it comes down to the fact that others are just not equipped. If we have the knowledge, experience and tools, it is our responsibility to raise awareness, to train, to help equip others. When my son entered high school, the special education team and professionals admitted, “Lori, we don’t know what to do with autism.” Time to equip; time to “be the change!!”
Become a Resource
According to Karen Siff Exkorn, author of The Autism Sourcebook: Everything You Need to Know About Diagnosis, Treatment, Coping, and Healing, “Always remember that you know your child better than anyone else…getting our child the help that he or she needs is a collaborative process.”
Two decades ago, most of my community didn’t know what to do with autism; myself included. This created an amazing opportunity to develop a support system and inspire others. Why not include others on my journey? My son may be one of the first with autism to live here; however, he wasn’t going to be the last. My philosophy is not to blame but to come up with solutions. Why not be instrumental with creating a caring community for the special needs populations? Be the change!
It didn’t happen over night. I was in denial for many years trying to digest my situation. As mentioned in previous blogs, it was when I finally accepted my son’s diagnosis that doors started to open because I opened those doors. Why not include others through that doorway?
It Takes a Village
Many years ago, I started a “Parents of Autism” support group inviting professionals to share with us their expertise. The support group also provided a platform for parents to not go it alone. We cried together, we exchanged ideas and resources, and we accompanied each other at IEP meetings. The support was extremely helpful and was part of the healing process. Parents came together in support of each other.
Uncertainty of the future is scary; we don’t need to go on this journey alone. Let’s advocate together for the future of our special kids! One tip I stress the most, remember to stay focused on the mission (the special needs child) and don’t let personal agendas get in the way. We need to work together in unity in support of our children.
A Few Supportive Ideas:
- Host a community meeting with local clergy to discuss how the local churches can provide support or a special needs ministry. Respite care to the special needs families can be a huge help.
- Team-up, buddy-up with new parents of special needs children. Remember what it was like getting the news for the first time? Be a mentor creating a support system.
- Order “The first 100 day survival tool kit” from Autism Speaks to give to new parents.
- Develop your own community resource guide to support special needs.
- Start a chapter of the Autism Society of America (call 1-800-3-autism or visit www.autism-society.org). There are resources available that include bylaws, newsletters, education plans for schools, social events and conferences.
Highly Effective People
World renowned author Stephen R. Covey of the #1 national bestseller book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, encourages habit #5 “to seek first to understand then to be understood. This involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood.” We need to understand first that not all professionals, special education teams, friends, community and family are equipped to meet the special needs of our children. We need to raise awareness, help train, and equip. Be the change!!
Be the Change at a Higher Level
Even at the State level, you can “be the change.” By becoming a resource to parents and professionals over the years, I learned I had a voice to bring local issues to the State level and so can you. I applied for a seat on the Board of Directors for the State Council on Developmental Disabilities representing my county and I was appointed by the Board of Supervisors. YOU CAN,TOO. Apply to represent your community for your Area Board or for a Governor’s seat appointment. You can make a difference in the lives of our special needs’ populations.
Let’s join hands and use our experiences for the common good. Let’s have the courage to “Be the change that you wish to see in the world!”
“Be the Change” article originally published at Special-ism
“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” – Alexander Pope
With each New Year, my resolutions are focused on trying something new or focused on a character-building quest. One of my resolutions for 2012 was to learn more about the act of “forgiveness” as I am challenged. It isn’t easy for me to forgive. I have used it at times as leverage. “Hope someday I can forgive you!” I have a difficult time separating forgiveness with condoning. I feel that if I forgive then I must be condoning behavior or actions.
Ten years ago, my son with autism was attending a public junior high school and was bullied relentlessly. As a result of his challenges with communication, he drew a picture of himself being hung. Above his head, he wrote the students’ names of those that were harassing him along with the words “autism a pariah.” The picture got into the hands of the parents of those students and they reacted saying the picture was a “hit list” of the names my son was going to target. Those parents would not allow their children in school if my son was there. The school authorities looked at the situation as losing “many students versus one” in attendance; they did not allow my son back for a few days.
I requested a parent meeting to explain this misunderstanding, but not one parent showed. My son obsessed. He wanted to clear up this mess by writing each parent a letter of apology for scaring their children; never his intent. He explained that the picture was expressing his feelings due to the treatment he was receiving. It was clear to me, the school psychologist and his social worker. Unfortunately, the parents reacted before getting the facts.
My Research on Forgiveness
The definition of forgiveness is to excuse an offense or pardon. During 2012, I read many books on my quest to forgive. I understand that when we don’t forgive, we hold feelings of bitterness, resentment and hate. According to neurosurgeon and author of Gray Matter1 , Dr. David Levy states “The idea that bitterness was the source of health problems would not have made sense to me earlier in my career, but over time I became convinced that one of the greatest thieves of joy and health is the unwillingness to forgive the people who have hurt us… Bitterness kills like a disease. Releasing bitterness can dramatically help the underlying causes of many physical ailments.”
I thought forgiveness only had spiritual benefits. Dr. Levy explains further that forgiving others is part of whole body healing. When we don’t forgive, it affects us spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
Unforgiveness contributes to chronic illness. According to the Mayo clinic2 , people who hold grudges have increased blood pressure and heart rates. The benefits of forgiving include less anxiety, stress and hostility lowering blood pressure with fewer symptoms of depression, and will lower the risk of alcohol and drug abuse. Forgiveness can change ones life by bringing peace, happiness, emotional and spiritual healing.
My quest included a look into the Bible. As I researched forgiveness, these biblical scripture stood out.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ, God forgave you,” Ephesians 4:32
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven,” Luke 6:37
“With the measure we use, it will be measured to us,” Matthew 7: 2
In the book The Blessings of Adversity, author and US Senate Chaplain Dr. Berry Black states that receiving divine forgiveness is linked to our willingness to forgive others. In Matthew 6:12, it states “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We need to cancel their debt to us and release them to God. Freedom. “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others,” Colossians 3:13.
Christ’s Spiritual Discipline The book of Mark is a beautiful timeline of Christ’s life highlighting His spiritual practices; He is our perfect role model. Christ’s spiritual discipline of forgiveness is one I want to emulate. He was spat on. Ridiculed. Murdered. Yet He forgave, “For they know not what they do.”
That junior high incident affected both my son and me. The hurt and humiliation followed us for several years. Why didn’t those parents get the facts first before reacting? It felt like malicious intent. Bullying. Role models for their children. Many don’t understand the ramifications of hurt that can scar for a lifetime. “For they know not what they do.”
The Gift of Forgiveness – Freedom The words from the song Forgiveness by Matthew West hits home. “When the pain they caused is just too real…set it free…forgiveness…the prisoner it really frees is you!” Freedom.
My year of 2012 ended with a sermon on forgiveness; God’s timing is always perfect. The pastor (my brother) said “Forgiveness is a supernatural act of God. Surrender. Let go and let God.” At that moment I realized I can not do this alone. “To forgive is truly divine.”
Read Lori’s article on teaching tips for children to forgive at Special-ism.com