Forest Hills parents teach empathy through their story
by Lisa A. Fraser
May 03, 2012 | 23939 views | 1 1 comments | 891 891 recommendations | email to a friend | print

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Starabella's eyes "shine like stars" when she's happy. The young protagonist in a audio/picture book series is bright-eyed and full of wonder and her ability to create music and songs has made her parents proud.

Her love for little things, music, and life makes her an exceptional daughter to her parents. But despite Starabella's abilities and talents, some of the kids in her class look at her and treat her different because she doesn't know how to express herself socially.

The Starabella book series, written by Forest Hills resident Sharon Fialco, is based upon the experiences her autistic daughter, Tara had while growing up. Tackling the issue of teasing and bullying, Fialco penned the three-book series as a way to bring attention to the issue in kids and parents, while offering a unique way to solve them.

Through music and art, Fialco flawlessly addresses the isolation kids often feel when teased or bullied and also conveys the feelings of parents with children who are forced to deal with developmental disorders.

“The books open up a discussion,” Fialco said. “No matter what differences people have, they're all similar.”

Fialco began working on the books since 1994 and she says they have evolved over time. The books are based on Tara's resilience toward her mistreatment by the other kids and her ability to rise above.

“Tara's response to the bullying was not self pity or anger,” Fialco said. “She used her piano to write music and lyrics that reflected her belief in the potential of human goodness.” That's what inspired Starabella's talent.

“Music helped us rise above a level of severity and into a place of pride and exoltation in her challenge,” Fialco said. “We're grateful for it.”

Tara and her sister soon became a performing duo, expressing themselves in the community and in schools, where they did shows with props, scenery. The message was to convey Tara's desire to create a much more sensitive world where everyone could feel accpeted.

Tara, who is now 40, wasn't diagnosed with autism until she was in her 20s. But throughout school, Fialco says she was a determined child.

“She studied hard, to get through school, we would work through midnight,” she said.

But Fialco says that the teasing would sometimes bring Tara down.

“As a parent, nothing makes you feel more helpless than being at home and not having any control over what happens to your child at school,” she said, noting that bullying doesn't only affect the child but the parents as well.

Though the push to stop bullying is growing stronger, Fialco says schools still have a long way to go.

"Instead of standardization and competition we need to have the mind-set change to cooperation. To help one another and that helps everybody,” she said.

The books also showcase the diversity of current classrooms, and teach kids empathy. Fialco says that the emotions the stories bring out in parents makes what she is doing worthwhile.

The Fialcos constantly promote the books at book festivals, libraries and conferences. And 10 percent of book sales goes to Autism Speaks. On May 6, they will be at the Middle Village Street Fair. On May 20 they will also have a stand at the Forest Hills Kiwanis flea market.

They have also donated copies of the books to the Woodside Library, where the librarian says they're getting a good response and are actively being checked out.

The books have also done a good job making children aware of music as a means of communicating feelings and emotions. The Starabella series has garnered praise from parents and kids alike.

Fialco is glad that the general population is forming a great affection for Starabella.

“It gladdens my heart, they care what happens to her,” she said. “All children, whether they have a disability or not, will be empowered by her example.”

To learn more about Starabella, visit
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Edwin Rutsch
May 03, 2012
May I suggest a further resource to learn more about empathy and compassion.

The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.