Wynne revives Kiwala’s fetal alcohol disorder bill

KINGSTON — A piece of legislation championed by former Kingston and the Islands MPP Sophie Kiwala is to get a second chance at Queen’s Park.

Next month, former premier Kathleen Wynne is to table a private member’s bill that calls for amendments to the Early Childhood Educators Act and the Ontario College of Teachers Act to increase awareness about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) among educators and to require school boards to provide training to teachers about FASD, its signs and symptoms, and how best to support children and families.

“My hope is that the government will see the importance of this and adopt some of these strategies that we are putting forward,” Wynne said after introducing the bill to a gathering of educators and parents of children with FASD at Queen’s University on Tuesday morning.

“I felt it was important now to introduce the bill and to begin the conversation. There is a real lack of awareness about what alcohol consumption in a pregnant woman can do to that unborn child.

“This is a huge problem.”

During Kiwala’s term as MPP, she put forward a private member’s bill that would have amended the Education Act to permit school boards to increase their FASD awareness and support.

That bill died when the Liberal government lost the June 2018 provincial election.

Wynne said the research showed up to three per cent of children ages seven to nine in Toronto meet the criteria to be diagnosed with FASD, which she said would make it more prevalent than autism and Down syndrome.

“And yet it is hidden, it is hidden from view,” Wynne said. “We don’t really know what all the markers are as a general population.”

Kiwala said she is “over the moon” that her private member’s bill has been resurrected, adding that it would help children and their families. (Read more…)


Seattle-area parents of kids with disabilities share their tips for making travel fun

You’ve seen them at the airport, at the beach or in a restaurant. A child is thrashing or kicking or on the ground while a desperate parent hovers nearby, trying to ignore angry glances from passersby. I know because I’ve been that anguished parent.

On display are “cognitive disabilities,” invisible handicaps related to how children’s brains work. For many kids with cognitive disabilities or developmental disorders, a car can be a prison, a plane or a new hotel room can be sheer terror.

In the past, families were stuck, barely venturing outside the county, certainly not on an overnight trip. Travel meant potential trauma minefields, and unfortunately, we live in a world where bystanders are more apt to call the police or Child Protective Services than offer help to the parents.

“You’re in this constant fear you’re going to get kicked out of the hotel because of whatever is going on with your child,” says Sara Lawton, 38, a Shoreline mom of an 8-year-old son with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD). He was adopted six years ago.

“We have been planning a trip to Disney for a long time, but the idea of putting him in an airplane is panic-inducing for us,” she says. “You’re stuck in a tube hurtling through the sky, and what if he has a meltdown and he is swearing and kicking? What are we going to do?”

If a pilot makes an emergency landing due to a panicking child on a crowded plane, unless treated as a medical emergency, the cost to the parents could be north of $10,000. Lawton has managed to take her child to the Christmas lights in Leavenworth and Great Wolf Lodge south of Olympia, even though hotel noises stress her child out.

“It feels really, really lonely,” she says. “You see all these other families having fun and being carefree, whereas your kid is so full of anxiety, he cannot have fun. So our world has gotten really small.” (Read more…)

As alcohol consumption declines among millennials, more Twin Cities bars are holding the booze

When Marvel Bar, the Minneapolis cocktail lounge, reopened earlier this month after a winter break, something was missing behind the bar: the alcohol.

Top-shelf liquors were replaced with an elaborate installation of dried flowers. A counter that once held 192 bottles of whiskey is now a bookshelf featuring, among other titles, Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential,” a pocket guide to herbs, and an illustrated volume on cats that live in distilleries.

The whiskey? It’s still there, just tucked out of sight.

These days, Marvel Bar doesn’t look much like a bar at all, in the traditional sense, anyway. Yet its bartenders are still shaking and stirring some of the most mouthwatering cocktails in town, minus one crucial ingredient.

As more Americans cut down on alcohol consumption, Twin Cities cocktail menus are evolving to meet demands for more than a simple seltzer and lime. “Mindful drinking” and “sober curious” movements, Dry January and Sober October are just some of the buzzwords — without the buzz — that reflect a surge of bar and restaurant consumers who want a drink, without drinking.

Marvel Bar’s dramatic new look is part of a four-month “exploration” into nonalcoholic cocktails, a program it’s calling “Dry” that includes classes and panel discussions, in addition to a new drink menu. (Traditional alcoholic cocktails are still available, but they’re downplayed.)

Meanwhile, customers at P.S. Steak can get a nonalcoholic negroni that mixes verjus (nonfermented wine grape juice) with a bitter soda. Travail’s Uffda pop-up has a list of “church basement punches” that riff on different colors of Kool-Aid. And Demi offers a multicourse “temperance pairing” of alcohol-free beverages with dinner.

“The best bars exist to make people feel welcomed,” said Nathaniel Smith, bar director for Travail Collective. “I don’t see why every cocktail bar in town wouldn’t have a section of their menu dedicated to a large percentage of the population.” (Read more…)

What is a “Service Dog?”

There are Service Dogs and Support Dogs, such as therapy dogs, emotional support dogs, etc. The difference between a Service Dog and Support Dog is that a Service Dog is trained to perform a specific task to help their handlers. In most jurisdictions, it is legal for service dogs to be in places that dogs are prohibited, while support dogs are not afforded the same privileges. Here are 10 types of service dogs.

FASD Service Dogs 

An emerging category of service dogs, these dogs support children who were exposed to alcohol prenatally and have been diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). These children may have physical and mental difficulties, as well as behavioral problems and learning disabilities. According to 4 Paws for Ability, FASD dogs are trained similarly to autism service dogs.  

risdictions, it is legal for service dogs to be in places that dogs are prohibited, while support dogs are not afforded the same privileges. Here are 10 types of service dogs. 

Autism Support Dogs 

For kids on the autism spectrum, these dogs provide a sense of predictability as the children navigate social settings. The dogs can be a big help for kids who have trouble connecting with classmates. The dog acts as an icebreaker in social situations. They improve the child’s quality of life by reducing isolation and comforting the child in stressful times. These dogs are also trained to keep children from running away and can track children if they do runoff.

Seizure Alert Dogs 

Seizure alert dogs are one of the controversial types of service dogs. They react with a specific type of behavior right before the human has a seizure. The ability to alert to seizures seems to be a natural ability for a small number of dogs, although some neurology experts say there is no reliable evidence to suggest that dogs can reliably predict seizures. Many patients, families and trainers insist their dogs do accurately predict oncoming seizures. 

(Read more…)



Back To School Strategies

The new school year means a change in routine, not only a change from the holiday routine but a change from last year as well. Children may be faced with a new classroom, new schoolmates, new teacher(s), new routines, and new goals. Transitioning from the school holidays back into a classroom, or beginning school for the first time, can be particularly difficult for children and families living with FASD. The Edmonton and Area Fetal Alcohol Network Society compiled these tips to help prepare families for the transition into the school year:

  1. Start a ‘Back-To-School’ count down calendar. Children with FASD often struggle with changes to routines and schedules. To avoid any ‘surprises’ create or use an existing visual calendar. Have the child cross-off the days during the last two weeks of summer holidays as the first day of school approaches.
  2. It is important for children with FASD to feel safe and secure in their learning environment. This includes knowing and understanding the physical structure. Where are the bathrooms, the gym? Where do they begin their day? Set up a tour of the school to allow your child to see the buildings and all those rooms and places they will need to navigate.
  3. Prepare! Two weeks before the start of school begin using a schedule (for example, wake-up times, breakfast time, lunch times, snack times, bed times) and the complimentary routines (for example, getting dressed in the morning, brushing teeth, packing the schoolbag) that are similar to what the school days will look like. Don’t forget that a posted schedule, visual routine reminders and step-by-step instructions can help to ground your child in time and space and assist them to accomplish their daily tasks.
  4. Communication, communication, communication! Every child with FASD has their own unique challenges and strengths and it is important to share these with educators so that your child’s learning experience can be based on their needs.

(Read more…)

The Power Of Gentleness

Equine Assisted Therapy on a Rainy Day

Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) has been reported as beneficial for numerous families living with FASD. Common therapies are often found to be ineffective, as they do not account for the unique needs associated with cognitive impairment. EAT uses experiential learning, without the need to discuss abstract concepts, which can enable positive change for those with FASD.

Anxiety is a common experience for children and adults living with FASD. Therapist Elizabeth Hannah recently shared a case study outlining how EAT teaches clients to regulate their own emotions in order to develop a relationship with, and provide care for, a horse. Read her story below.

Recently, a 14-year-old called Emma attended Black Horse Therapies on a rainy and windy day. Emma has a history of strong anxiety. Horses are sensitive to the weather and sometimes become nervous in strong wind and other storm conditions. We have a large area at the back of a big shed for wet or windy days.

This was Emma’s second visit. During her first session she showed a calm and gentle way with the horse she was working with, which calmed him like magic! I had never seen Sammy, our Clydie-cross, so relaxed with anyone. Her mother commented afterwards that they seemed almost to be hypnotized!

During Emma’s second session I introduced her to Pip, our 2-year-old miniature horse. Pip was quite nervous about the sound of the rain on the tin roof of the shed. I asked Emma if she could help Pip settle down.

We found that Pip was feeling too restless to enjoy being brushed (which she usually loves) and that she was better being led around. Pip is a young horse and, in some ways, similar to a young child. Emma has younger siblings and she understood this about Pip (without being told). I set out hoops for Pip to walk through and logs for her to walk over. (Read more…)

Review of Transition Planning Tools for Youth with FASD in Canada


The transition to adulthood can be a challenging experience for individuals with FASD because of the expectation of increased responsibility and independence in adulthood. The unique nature of FASD, coupled with the wide range of challenges individuals with FASD face and the lack of FASD specific services available, suggests that particular attention should be paid to the transition planning process for youth with FASD.

Transition planning is a process of preparing individuals to move from one life stage to another. For youth with FASD approaching the age of 18 (adulthood), transition planning should:

  • Reflect the youth’s future goals;
  • Outline a shift from child to adult services;
  • Identify and build strengths and natural support systems;
  • Promote the greatest possible level of independence;
  • Promote inclusion in the community;
  • Identify the needs of the youth and their families; and
  • Promote self-determination.

Transition planning is a challenging process. FASD affects each individual uniquely, so each transition plan then must be unique to each individual’s situation and available resources.

In Canada, there are a number of documents outlining the transition planning process and how to implement a plan in various provinces for youth with developmental disabilities. However, very few youths with FASD in Canada actually have a transition plan in place. The intent of this research was to evaluate the current tools available and provide recommendations from this evaluation to better support youth and their families through this process.

Main Findings

Several Canadian provinces have transition planning tools and resources that are helpful when considering the needs of youth with FASD in their transition to adulthood. Some provinces have FASD specific transition tools (e.g the Alberta Youth with FASD Transitioning Initiative Toolkit and Strategies Not Solutions), while others have broadly released tools for youth with developmental disabilities. (Read more…)

Experiences in Education

CanFASD is taking a look at FASD and our education system through the lens of three different people: the student, the teacher, and the caregiver.


Individuals with FASD have many strengths, however, these strengths are not often captured in academic research. Anecdotal evidence suggests that individuals with FASD are very friendly, generous, helpful, outgoing, hard-working, determined, non-judgemental, and forgiving. They are often good storytellers, and can be artistic, musical, and athletic. Individuals with FASD may be strong hands-on learners and can excel in non-traditional learning environments.

Prenatal alcohol exposure can affect brain development. As a result, individuals with FASD are often challenged with executive functioning, abstract thinking, emotional regulation, attention, learning and memory, and sensory processing. Academic subjects such as math and languages can be difficult. Individuals with FASD often also experience adverse secondary outcomes as a result of their disability, including suspension, expulsion, or dropping out of school. However, targeted intervention strategies and educational supports are effective at improving outcomes for students with FASD.

Having access to adequate supports and resources in an education system can help individuals with FASD identify their strengths and areas of interest, and work towards achieving success in those areas. Stories of success can be found in blog posts, news articles, and research papers.

These stories are peppered with repeating themes. In order to achieve success, individuals with FASD need parental and educational support, access to effective resources, programs, and services, and FASD-informed school staff.


The experiences of students with FASD can significantly improve with the implementation of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This document is a plan specific to each student outlining how educational supports can be used to accommodate the needs of a particular student.

Educators are expected to develop and implement IEPs based on recommendations they are given from psychologists who assess the students. However, teachers have reported frustration with this process. (Read more…)

3 Evidence Based Strategies and Programs to Support Students with FASD

CanFASD pulled together 3 programs and strategies from recent research that are designed to support students with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) to succeed in our education system.

1. Metacognitive Strategies

Research released in March of 2019 finds that “co-creation” of metacognitive strategies can be an effective approach to support learning and self-regulation in individuals with FASD. Known as “metacognitive training interventions”, this strategy teaches students to “think about their thinking”. This approach helps individuals with FASD to first understand what they want to learn, and secondly to identify and then use appropriate strategies to help them achieve that goal. Co-creation (essentially helping individuals with FASD identify what works for them) is a really important step in the process. By co-creating these metacognitive strategies, students were better able to then apply the strategies to future tasks.

Metacognitive strategies focus on the individual’s abilities and strengths rather than their challenges. This approach provides them with an opportunity to use and improve their skills, where other intervention strategies have typically focused on altering that individual’s environment. The authors of this research found that participants were able to create and use strategies such as clarifying directions, visualization, setting goals, positive self-talk, and deep breathing/relaxation in order to achieve their end goal. The findings suggest that encouraging students to use metacognitive strategies increased the individual’s autonomy and improved their self-regulation and attention.

2. Integrating FASD Programming

As part of a research program out of the University of Victoria, a computer game called Caribbean Quest was developed. It was designed specifically to improve the learning skills of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and FASD. Research looking at the impact of this game on attention and executive functioning in nine students with FASD found it to be a valuable intervention strategy to improve educational success for individuals with FASD. (Read more…)

Our New Year’s Resolution: Addressing Stigma

Dr. Theresa Tam, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, has just released a report summarizing the state of public healthcare in Canada. The 2019 report lists stigma as the major public health concern impacting the health and wellbeing of all Canadians.

Stigma is a negative stereotype or a “labelling of differences” that begins to separate people into categories of “us” and “them”. Stigma acts as a barrier, influencing an individual’s willingness to seek help, their access to services, and the quality of care that they receive. As we move into a new decade we’re very pleased to see that Canada is placing a strong focus on addressing stigma at an individual level, an institutional level, a community level, and at a national level.

In our field, we know only too well the impact that stigma can have on the health of Canadians. Individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and their caregivers experience stigma on a daily basis. Despite the fact that FASD affects approximately 4% of Canadians (more than cerebral palsy, autism, and Down syndrome combined), the disorder is not well understood by the majority of our population. As a result, the challenges individuals with FASD face with emotional regulation and social interaction are often seen as “bad behaviour” and “poor life choices” by our society. This stigma impacts every aspect of their lives, from employment and education to involvement with the justice system and everything in between. Additionally, mental health issues and substance use disorders frequently co-occur with FASD. As a result, individuals with FASD face stigma in a number of different forms.

We’ve developed online training courses for community members and frontline workers to help them better understand FASD and give them tools to improve service provision for individuals with FASD. This is just one of the ways we are working to overcome stigma at an individual, institution, community, and national level. (Read more…)