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Did you ever think adolescents with FASD or PAE could practice social and cognitive skills in a virtual environment?

Rianne Spaans is a third-year doctoral student in the School and Clinical Child Psychology program at the University of Alberta thought so! Rianne, under the supervision of Dr. Jacqueline Pei and in collaboration with the “programming geniuses” at Technology in Education Specialization in the faculty of education at the University of Alberta are working to develop and test the effectiveness of a virtual environment intervention that targets social and cognitive skills for adolescents aged 13-18  with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) or prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE).

This unique and engaging intervention takes place in a virtual environment, or what Rianne calls a “fancy video game.” The style of the game is mission impossible, where players interact online to solve the crime. Different social and cognitive skills are targeted by the types of games played or tasks completed. Such tasks progress in difficulty, starting off easy and becoming more difficult as the game continues.

Rianne explained one of the games “Car Thief,” that takes place in a chop shop where a team of 5 players works together to catch the bad guy that steals cars. The evidence they find in this particular game takes players through different scenarios such as avoiding guard dogs, disarming cameras and examining documents to find relevant names as clues to solve the case.


Image from Virtual Environment “Car Thief” game, players distracting guard dogs.

Teams of players that work well together catch the bad guy. However, this is not without working on skills such as emotional regulation or attention span. Capture10.pngSome games, for example, are designed to induce frustration or distract players from the task at hand by decoys depending on how the team of players works together.
There are also features like a  “chill out space” where if players do become frustrated they can take a break.

To top it all off, this virtual environment was entirely developed from scratch, from the storyline and characters to the game programming!

Rianne pointed out that there is a need for interventions that engage adolescents stating “It is understandable why they [adolescents] are not wanting to stay in some intervention programs… most programs are boring.” They are just simply not targeting adolescents interests. Rianne is hoping that this project will expand the kinds of interventions out there for adolescents to include virtual environments. As well as to “jump start the development of interventions that are fun and engaging.”

The study discussed in this blog is titled “Social Skills Intervention for Adolescents: the use of a virtual environment” and is currently  adolescents aged 13 up to 18 years old with a diagnosis of FASD or PAE (suspected FASD) recruiting out of the Univeristy of Alberta located in Edmonton.

If you would like more information or to participate in this study, please contact Rianne Spaans at


See below for more images from the virtual environment intervention!

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Edmonton Alberta is now home to a unique housing facility specifically for individuals diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). The Hope Terrace Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) program includes access to a case management and 24/hour support team. This facility is owned by Homeward Trust with the Bissell Centre providing internal and external support services for residents.

Internal supports are provided by a case management team that is able to tailor programming and support to the resident. The needs addressed may range from mental health and addiction supports to daily living and financial skills, however, are unique to the individual needs of the resident.

The case management team’s support workers are able to accompany residents to various appointments and commitment and work to establish a sense of community through group outings and in-house cultural supports for indigenous folks.


Image source:

Bissel Centre website for contact & extended information.

Global News Edmonton also covered this story. Click on the link for the news article and footage.

Image source:


CPI, an international organization focusing on safe behaviour management, recently posted an article written by behavioural therapist Chris Arnold. Arnold Describes key issues faced by individuals with FASD and  how to best support these individuals.

It is a great read -worth checking out if you are looking to learn a little bit more about what life is like for a person with FASD and how we can help them with daily struggles.

Arnold covers some key issues faced by individuals with FASD such as anxiety, the invisibility of the disability, the need for ongoing re-learning, and trouble with: structure, sequences, verbal instructions, understanding cause and effect, and understanding abstracts and generalizations. He discusses how we may misunderstand many of these issues and the implications our misunderstanding may have, as well as specific strategies to support people with FASD.

Click here to read the article


After what seems like far too long, KnowFASD is back in operation! To those of you who use the site regularly and have been waiting for its return, thank you for your patience.

If you have never visited the site, please feel free to drop by and check it out! Take a browse through the interactive home page and learn more/find help on the site’s wiki.

Our goal with KnowFASD is to provide a comprehensive site where viewers can learn about the neurobehavioural deficits associated with FASD throughout the lifespan and link to intervention options.

The main homepage of the website is an interactive interface where viewers can scroll through the lifespan of individuals with FASD, with neurobehavioural issues at each developmental stage presented as they may appear in day-to-day life. By clicking on a neurobehavioural issue, viewers are directed to a “wiki” (which works in a similar fashion to Wikipedia) housing information from current research on the neurobehavioural issue at hand. Each wiki page discusses a specific neurobehavioural issue: how it presents, potential causes, and potential consequences. At the bottom of each page, a link is provided to topic-specific intervention options.

Please feel free to visit the site, pass it along, and give us your feedback or suggestions. Check back often as we continue to upload information, links, and resources.

Visit KnowFASD

For those of you who have been searching for information on FASD Peterborough’s summer camp:


We contacted FASD Peterborough to get the scoop. They informed us that the camp has been extended to two weeks this year (great news!) but registration is already full. For those of you who may have missed out this year, keep them in mind for next year. Hopefully they will continue to have funding for the camp!

In other news:

As part of our goal to disseminate FASD intervention related information, the Intervention Network Action Team (iNAT; creators of this blog and members of the Canada FASD Research Network) puts together a quarterly newsletter called the iNAT FASD Intervention News. Our newest issue will be coming out very soon!

Subscribe now to receive the newest iNAT FASD Intervention News! We highlight new intervention research (along with opportunities to participate in research), upcoming conferences and learning opportunities, FASD interventions in the news, personal stories, and intervention related organizations.

Click here to read our last newsletter.

If you are interested in having your research, organization, or personal stories featured in the iNAT newsletter, please contact us at


We recently featured our newest project, KnowFASD, in the latest edition of our iNAT newsletter. For those of you who have not yet subscribed to the iNAT newsletter, here is some information about KnowFASD:

Our goal with KnowFASD is to provide a comprehensive site where viewers can learn about the neurobehavioural deficits associated with FASD throughout the lifespan and link to intervention options.

The main homepage of the website is an interactive interface where viewers can scroll through the lifespan of individuals with FASD, with neurobehavioural issues at each developmental stage presented as they may appear in day-to-day life. By clicking on a neurobehavioural issue, viewers are directed to a “wiki” (which works in a similar fashion to Wikipedia) housing information from current research on the neurobehavioural issue at hand. Each wiki page discusses a specific neurobehavioural issue: how it presents, potential causes, and potential consequences. At the bottom of each page, a link is provided to topic-specific intervention options.

Please feel free to visit the site, pass it along, and give us your feedback or suggestions. Check back often as we continue to categorize and upload information.

Visit KnowFASD

In my search for intervention information for this blog, I come across many strategies and research studies aimed at children and youth with FASD, which is wonderful. Early intervention and lots of it is a great thing. However, the reality of the situation is that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders do not disappear with time. If you have an FASD as a child, you continue to have it as an adult.

Research by Streissguth et. al.1 shows that adolescents and adults with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders function academically at an early grade school level. Their average adaptive functioning level (i.e. daily living skills, socialization skills, communication skills) is at the level of a typically developing 7 year old. Sixty two percent of adolescents and adults with FASD showed significant maladaptive behaviours, such as poor attention and concentration, teasing/bullying, crying or laughing too easily, dependency, stubbornness, social withdrawal, impulsivity, anxiety, and sullenness).

In another study on young adults with FASD2, the secondary disabilities associated with FASD (such as disrupted school experience, difficulties in the workplace, trouble with the law,and difficulty living independently) are very apparent in adulthood. Approximately half of the participants had needed special education, with only 38% having passed primary school and only 13% having passed high school. Despite a majority of participants having received some sort of job training/preparation, only 13%  of participants had ever been employed in a regular job. Only 30% of participants in this study were either living independently or with a partner/family of their own. The remaining 60% were institutionalized or in a dependent-living situation.

Given that we often find that adults with FASD function at the level of school-aged children, ideally they should be provided with the same amount of support we would give to a child. However, this is not always the case. According to the Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal, children with disabilities in Canada  receive child welfare protection until the age of 19.  In addition to this, many individuals  with prenatal alcohol exposure do not receive an FASD diagnosis (but still experience neurobehavioural issues and difficulties with daily living), meaning that without a diagnosis they might be cut off from child protective services at an earlier age (children and youth without disabilities in the child welfare system are eligible for child protective services until age 16-19, depending on the province).

Becoming an adult, leaving the  school system, and no longer receiving child welfare services can be a huge loss of consistency and support.

All of this begs the question: What are we doing to support adults with FASD?

In a recent article from the Sudbury Star entitled “We’re just different”, Matthew Pakozdy, a young adult with FASD, speaks about the difficulties and successes of living with FASD.

The take home message from this article? supports are needed for children and adults alike with FASD, and the right supports can make a difference. Pakozdy credits a supportive mother, reliable caregivers/advocates, support staff and friends for the positive changes he has made in his life.

A few other things mentioned in the article as essential supports for individuals with FASD are a permanent cellphone with easily accessible emergency phone numbers, regular income, housing alternatives, and help to foster emotional control and healthy relationships.

With increased awareness and research about FASD, organizations are jumping on board to support adults with FASD:  

Check out Community Living British Columbia‘s “Supporting Success for Adults with FASD”, an online resource for those who work with adults with FASD

MOFASThe Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (MOFAS) holds a support group for adults affected by an FASD every Monday until April 2, 2013 in Saint Paul, MN.

For other posts about adult interventions, see our archived articles under Adult Interventions.

For our readers: Know of an organization that helps adults with FASD? Share it here or send us an email so we can spread the word!



1.         Streissguth, A.P., et al., Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in adolescents and adults. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 1991. 265: p. 1961-1967.

2.         Spohr, H.-L., J. Willms, and H. Steinhausen, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in young adulthood. The Journal of Pediatrics, 2007. 150(2): p. 175-179.e1.


Now that school has been back in for a month, kids are settling into routine and teachers have a clearer idea of where their needs lie. A teacher friend of mine was sharing her experience with me. She said that by this time of year she will usually have been able to spend one on one time with most of the kids to get a better idea of where they are at academically. This year in particular, almost half of her kids are below grade level in reading. A few of them are coded (i.e. they have a diagnosis of one thing or another and receive support) and a handful of them have behaviour difficulties and probably SHOULD be coded, but aren’t. She was concerned about the rest of  the year and wished she had more resources and supports at her disposal.

So after that conversation, I went home and started writing this blog post. Maybe there are some teachers out there that have a child or 2 with FASD in their classrooms and are struggling to find ways to support that child throughout the year. I thought I would put together a list of some of the teacher focused, academic based resources I’ve come across in the last year or so since this blog started. Of course, not everything works for every child, but this might be a good place to start!

If you are a teacher or you happen to know a teacher, please pass this along. Maybe there is something in these resources that all teachers can benefit from- even those who do not teach a child with FASD.

“POPFASD” is a fantastic resource for everything this post represents. It is a resource program from the BC Ministry of Education, aimed at educators working with students with FASD. Their wonderful collection of resources includes teacher resources, print resources, downloadable resources, and eLearning videos, all about FASD, all for educators.

Alberta Education Teacher Resources:
“Alberta Education” is the government of Alberta’s Ministry of Education, providing support to those involved with the school system from early education to grade 12. Their FASD teacher resources page contains some great publications to help teachers understand and teach students with FASD and other special needs.

Toolbox Parenting: Tips for Tough Kids:
Toolbox parenting is an informational site for families of individuals with special needs. Have a look around their site map. They provide some school based  ideas and resources (among other things), such as a “care kit” to educate others about the child’s needs, a “schools and special education guide” to aid parents with the education process, a “schools” section with some great information and suggestions for those involved in the child’s education.

Do2Learn Academics:
“Do2Learn” provides evidence based learning strategies for children with disorders that affect their learning and functioning. Their academics section has some great ideas for fine motor development, language development, visual discrimination, literacy, mathematics, learning strategies, and a “teacher toolbox” section.

Great Schools:
“Great schools” is a non-profit organization from the United States whose goal is to help parents support their child’s education. We liked their 8 summer reading activities for kids with learning disabilities– These can be done all year, not just in the summer!

Food for Thought:

Planning for school is great, but it’s also important to think ahead to the future. The folks at Online Education Database sent us this great list of 21 Critical Job Skills You Should Instil in Your Kid

To our readers:
Please feel free to add to this list by posting a comment or emailing us!

The Do2Learn website is a fantastic site if you are looking for ways to practice learning at home or if you are looking for resources to pass along to educators, caregivers, service providers, and more!

Although the site is not specific to FASD, the resources target some of the toughest areas for individuals with FASD, such as academics, social skills, behaviour management, communication, and daily living skills. The pages have great ideas for activities in home, community, and classroom settings.


Difficulties in academic subjects such as reading, spelling, and math are common for individuals with FASD. These difficulties often become worse as the individual gets older, so early intervention is very important. The academics section on the Do2Learn site includes activities to promote the development of many academic skills. Topics include:

  • Fine motor skills
  • Language
  • Visual discrimination
  • Literacy
  • Math
  • Learning Strategies

Go to the academics section

Social Skills

Many aspects of social functioning are difficult for people with FASD. They may have trouble with getting along with others, making and keeping friends, understanding feelings and emotions, and acting appropriately in social situations. Just like academics, social difficulties can become more of a problem as the individual with FASD enters adolescence and adulthood. The social skills section on the website includes many activities to work on social functioning. Topics include:

  • Communication skills
  • Social behaviour
  • Social skills toolbox
  • Emotions colour wheel
  • Social emotional skills

Go to the social skills section

Behaviour management

Individuals with FASD often have behaviour difficulties. Some of these behaviour difficulties may show up as defiance, acting out, temper tantrums, aggression, stealing, etc. It is important to remember that these behaviours are usually not intentional. Negative behaviours often occur secondary to other difficulties, such as environmental stresses, lack of understanding, poor cognitive ability, or unreasonable expectations. The Do2Learn website keeps this in mind with suggestions for:

  • Classroom strategies to promote good behaviour and accommodate students with special needs
  • Resources to help understand and deal with the underlying causes of behaviour
  • Behaviour management strategies

Go to the behaviour management section

For Adolescents and Adults:

There is also a great “jobTIPS” resource for older adolescents and adults looking to get involved in the work force. JobTIPS takes the individual through a user-friendly job-planning process with step by step instructions, tips, and resources. Featured topics include:

  • Determining Interests: The client discovers what their interests and strengths are and what they need to work on (i.e. social skills)
  • Finding a Job: Different ways to look for work
  • Getting a Job: How to navigate the application and interview process
  • Keeping a Job: Keeping up with workplace expectations and how to behave in a work setting
  • Other Job Topics: Such as how to leave employment, legal rights in the workplace, etc.

For our readers:

Is there a resource on the Do2Learn website you have found particularly helpful? Leave a comment and share it here!

What other sites/resources have you found helpful?


Kodituwakku, P. W. (2007) Defining the behavioral phenotype in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: a reviewNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 31, 192-201.

Kodituwakku, P. W. (2009) Neurocognitive profile in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders Developmental Disabilities, 15, 218-224.

Mattson, S. N., Crocker, N., & Nguyen, T. T. (2011). Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: neuropsychological and behavioral features. Neuropsychology Review, 21, 81-101.

McGee, C.L., & Riley, E.P. (2007). Social and behavioral functioning in individuals with prenatal alcohol exposure. International Journal on Disability and Human Development, 6(4), 369-382.

Rasmussen, C. & Wyper, K. (2007). Decision making, executive functioning, and risky behaviours in adolescents with prenatal alcohol exposure. International Journal on Disability and Human Development, 6(4), 405-416.

The internet is a wealth of information. Check out these new videos and webinars related to FASD intervention…

FASD Learning Series “Cognitive Interventions to Improve Math Skills”

This month’s FASD Learning Series webcast isCognitive Interventions to Improve Math Skills” Wednesday, March 28, 2012, 9-11 AM.

Topics to be discussed:

  • Research on FASD memory interventions
  • Math interventions in other clinical populations, and their implications for FASD
  • Specific intervention strategies
  • Evidence based practice
  • Application of research

Register now to attend the FREE live webcast.

Check out the Government of Alberta’s FASD Learning Series page to watch archived videos from previous presentations.

Neurodevnet FASD Video Resources

NeuroDevNet is trans-Canada research initiative that studies brain development in children.

On their resources page, the FASD Family Support video is a compilation of personal anecdotes about the need for support for families of children with FASD.

Some tips for families from the speakers in the video:

  • Try to find something every day to make the child with FASD feel good about what they are doing. Find something to pat them on the back for.
  • Think positive. Look for reasons to keep trying.
  • Have a good support system.
  • Trust your instincts and “think outside the box.”
  • Nurture children with FASD and remember to deal with them according to their functional age, which may be younger than their chronological age.
  • It is important for the child to self-advocate.

Below the videos, there are also several good links to web-based resources.

For Healthcare Providers: Free FASD Webinars Funded by the American Academy of Pediatrics, New Jersey Chapter

Part 2 of  the American Academy of Pediatrics funded webinars covers Assessment and Management of FASD.

The webinar will discuss areas of need for individuals with FASD and their clinical implications, distinguishing between  FASD and similar diagnoses, and management of FASD care coordination. The webinar will air on March 20, 2012, from 12:15-1:30 PM, EDT. Register here.

New Video about Movement, Attention and Learning from BC’s Provincial Outreach Program for FASD (POPFASD).

Chris Rowan of Sunshine Coast Occupational Therapy, Inc. speaks about the importance of movement and the stimulation of proprioception and the vestibular system as a precursor to attention and learning.

Watch the video on the POPFASD website.

The POPFASD website also contains a strong library of past eLearning videos with some great intervention information!

To Our Readers:

Do you know of a resource or webinar that you would like to share? Leave us a comment!

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