New approaches to helping children with FASD

Where some people tend to focus on weaknesses, Dr. Chris Bertram prefers to focus on strengths. The University of the Fraser Valley kinesiologist has been working with a research team for five years, trying to find ways to help children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder live up their full potential.

Where some people tend to focus on weaknesses, Dr. Chris Bertram prefers to focus on strengths. The University of the Fraser Valley kinesiologist has been working with a research team for five years, trying to find ways to help children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder live up their full potential.

Bertram, this year’s winner of the Teaching Excellence award at UFV, will give a public lecture entitled Finding Strengths, Building Hope on Thursday, October 6, as part of the University Lecture Series.  The talk will be held at 4 p.m. in Room B121 of the UFV Abbotsford campus. Admission is free and the public is welcome.

The talk will focus on two programs for children with FASD, the FAST Club and Brain Gamers, run by the university.

Playing in a gym after school or hanging around playing video games may sound like fun, but they are also the key part of the UFV research project.

UFV has been running FAST Club, an after-school motor-skills program for children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, for the past three years. New this year is an after-school video game program. Both projects have a mission of helping children tap into their inner strengths with regards to their motor skills and gaming skills, and investigating whether the impacts of these activities cross over into other areas. Both programs are offered free of charge for children with a diagnosis of FASD.

“A typical approach to treating children with FASD involves focusing on their weaknesses. We do assessments and target their best areas and give them choices about what skills they want to improve upon,” says Bertram, who is UFV Kinesiology program head and one of the project researchers. “We want to identify existing strengths in children with FASD, and to develop these strengths to the fullest capacity of the individual. We have seen positive changes in other brain functions after participating in our FAST club. The jury is still out on why this is, but what’s important to the families participating is that these changes are happening.”

The UFV  project is a part of nation-wide multidisciplinary collaboration that was recently funded by two separate Network Centres of Excellence — NeuroDevNet and GRAND. An overview of the projects will be discussed along with some preliminary data that suggest that targeted approaches to intervention based on an individual’s strengths can lead to neuroplastic changes in children with FASD.

Many UFV students are gaining research experience working on this project.

The University Lecture Series events are free and open to the public, and presented by the UFV Research Services office.

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