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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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A great resource for educators working with students with FASD! See the text below from the Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium:

Together, the Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium and the Learning Network, in partnership with Dr. Jacqueline Pei, her team and Alberta Education,  are pleased to provide an excellent resource to support educators working with students with FASD…

Professionals without Parachutes: Supporting Students with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

This resource includes videos and accompanying learning guides designed for use by professional learning communities, learning coaches and teacher leaders or as a self-paced study.


Understanding medical and disability implications of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is essential for getting to know students with FASD, planning effective instruction and providing the right level of classroom support.

Developed by Dr. Jacqueline Pei and her colleagues, Stephanie Hayes and Alethea Heudes. This PD resource provides an explanation of FASD, its effect on the brain and the impact it can have on student learning, social/emotional behaviour and the classroom environment. Strategies for designing classroom instruction and routines to support students with FASD are also highlighted.

Each of the videos and accompanying learning guides are organized as modules and focus on the following:

Module One: Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and the Developing Brain

Module Two: Brain Structure Versus Brain Function

Module Three: The Brain and Emotional Regulation

Link to the resources:


Are you a caregiver of a child/youth with FASD living in Canada? 

If so, the University of Alberta and CanFASD need your help! We are conducting a short online survey in order to learn more about the needs and stresses associated with caring for a child/youth with FASD. It only takes 15-20 minutes and your responses are anonymous.

While existing research shows that caregivers of children with FASD experience a significant amount of stress, there is little published research investigating the specific needs of those caring for children with FASD, whether these needs are being met, and the relationship between caregiver needs and stress.

Through research such as this, we have the opportunity to influence practice and policy in order to improve services for caregivers and their children. Please take a moment to read the poster above for more information or go directly to the survey by clicking the link below.

Yes! I would like to complete the survey and contribute to FASD research!


Thank you!

Parents: wouldn’t it be nice to say “go play your video games” for a change? Imagine a video game that has been researched and  can actually improve the mental functioning of a child with FASD…

It’s a possibility!

An article printed Monday in the Vancouver Sun and the Edmonton Journal highlights new FASD intervention research from the University of Alberta and the University of Victoria. Children taking part in the intervention play a video game called “Caribbean Quest” where they work on their cognitive and self-regulation skills with an intervention coach. The students in the study have improved and MRI scans have shown changes in the white matter of the brain.

Read the article

Also mentioned in the article is an upcoming FASD resource and educational website (which will be featured on this blog when released) and the Wellness, Resilience, and Partnership project, which involves coaches working in schools with Jr. and Sr. high school kids with FASD to provide academic, emotional, and social supports.

Learn more about Alberta Education’s FASD resources for teachers.

Want to get involved in research?

This summer, CBC North broadcasted 3 interviews on FASD intervention on their Trailbreaker program. The Trailbreaker is a morning radio program out of the Northwest Territories (NWT) with host Joslyn Oosenbrug.

In the first segment, “Dealing with FASD,” Oosenburg interviews Sharon Brintnell, professor in occupational therapy at the University of Alberta, about her 3C program. The program, now finished, supported male inmates with FASD in their reintegration into the community. Transitional support workers helped offenders with FASD navigate social systems by providing counseling and assistance with things like finding a job, accessing housing, and starting a bank account. Participants also spent time exploring and practicing healthy lifestyle activities.

You can read more about Sharon Brintnell’s 3C program on the University of Alberta website or in the Government of Alberta Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Cross-Ministry Committee’s Fall 2011 Newsletter: “Taking Action of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder” (Page 2).

The second segment, “Changing Our Approach to FASD,” features an interview with FASD Project Coordinator for the Northwest Territories Department of Justice, Doreen Reid. Reid speaks about FASD in the justice system in NWT and ways of working with individuals to prevent offence and re-offence.

In the third segment, “FASD Interventions,” Oosenburg speaks with Lori Twissell, FASD coordinator at Stanton Hospital in Yellowknife. Twissell speaks about her role as family liaison with the NWT Diagnostic team. She discusses the team’s experience with families from diagnosis to debriefing and the placement of intervention supports.

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