Category Archives: Resources for Caregivers

Alberta Family Wellness Initiative: Resilience



Why do some of us bounce back from adversity better than others?


To promote a good standard of health and help prevent mental health and addiction problems in our communities, we need to support all individuals in building the foundations of resilience—the skills and abilities that develop through experience and allow us to adapt and stay healthy even in circumstances of severe stress or hardship.

The resilience scale is a metaphor to explain why some people seem more resilient than others and to help visualize how to improve resilience: the ability to respond positively in the face of adversity.


Think of a scale where a person’s good and bad experiences get stacked over the course of development. The positive experiences that get stacked on one end are called protective factors and include things like attentive caregivers and available social supports that provide things like good prenatal health, nutrition, health care, and a childhood rich in Serve and Return interactions. The other end of the scale gets loaded up with bad experiences—what scientists call risk factors. These are experiences that cause Toxic Stress and tip the scale in a negative direction. Toxic stress occurs when no caring adults are present to buffer the effects of experiences such as abuse, neglect, or parental addiction. RSA-1


A person’s resilience scale is a good predictor of health outcomes, and what gets placed on the scale in early childhood is especially important. When the scale, weighed down by positive experiences, tips in a positive direction, a person is more likely to experience good health, academic success, strong relationships, and economic security. A person with a scale weighed down by experiences that cause toxic stress will have increased risk for stress-related diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, depression, and addiction. Many of these outcomes surface in adolescence or adulthood, long after the resilience scale was loaded by experiences in early childhood.


Most of us know of people who seem to thrive in spite of difficult childhoods, or those who struggle in life even though good caregivers and strong communities loaded their scales with predominantly positive experiences.

Experiences alone are only half of the story; genes also play a role. A person’s genetic inheritance is like the starting position of the fulcrum, or the balance point, of the scale: some of us are born highly sensitive to the effects of toxic stress, while others can withstand significant amounts of stress without experiencing lasting harm to brain architecture. On the scale, we see that the position of the fulcrum affects how much leverage positive or negative experiences have in shaping our life outcomes.



Research into epigenetics has revealed that, remarkably, the position of the fulcrum is not set in stone. Experiences at critical stages of development modify how our genes are expressed. Over time, supportive relationships and serve-and-return experiences can shift the fulcrum in a more resilient direction, strengthening brain architecture so that a person is better prepared to bounce back from significant life stresses.


Because life events aren’t always in our control, it’s important to help all children build the foundations of resilience so that they can better meet the challenges they may face during development and later in life. For older children, adolescents, and adults, it is never too late to build resilience; though the required effort increases with age, we can always improve skills that enable better outcomes.

For more information please visit the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative at:

Enjoying Halloween With Sensory Challenges

With Halloween fast approaching you may have to think about how you and your family can enjoy the spooky day with sensory challenges in the mix. Take a peek at a few tips!

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Click to download tip sheet: Enjoying Halloween with sensory challenges (1)

How We’re Navigating Summer Break With Kids Who Thrive On Structure.


Ah summer! We’re talking flip flops, sunglasses, bike rides, hanging by the pool, staying up late, catching fire flies, and then sleeping until we wake up the next morning. Nothing better, right? But when you’re parenting kiddos with special needs, who thrive in a structured, routine-driven environment, summer can spell disaster.


I get it. I’m the parent of eight children, three of whom have major special needs that range from sensory processing needs to hyper-activity and extreme anxiety. Three of my children have been diagnosed with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, which falls under the umbrella of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

They thrive in structure…all the time. Because drug and alcohol exposure in-utero caused damage to the pre-frontal cortex of their brain (where executive functioning skills like reasoning, logic, impulsivity control, and social awareness exist) they are often incapable of lax schedules, easy-going days, or little to no routine. If you’re in this trench currently, you understand this full-well. And, your summers are anything but easy-going. In fact, much like us, you’re on-duty constantly, sometimes throughout the night.

This is our normal. This is what we are signed up for. But for many, it’s taking the life out of them, especially if they are fairly new to this journey, or parenting children from traumatic places. We know exactly what you’re walking through right now. We’ve been there and are still there in many regards. Even though we are a few years down the road in terms of parenting children from trauma, we still have to figure this out every single spring, before summer begins.

Here’s how we’re navigating summer break with our kiddos who need structure:

  1. Create a routine. During the school year, we live and die by routine — even our weekends are structured around this. But what about summertime? It’s tough because you want to let things go, not have a set bed time, not have a set wake-up time, or midday schedule. But at what cost? I know it feels restrictive to keep your routine in place during the summer, but it’s much worse to live in chaos.
  2. Set expectations ahead of time. Right before summer starts, we explain the expectations for summer break to our kids. We go through chores and incentives for completing said chores. We also share the schedule and structure we are creating for them (and us). We explain why we are doing this and remain crystal clear on how this will help us have the best possible summer break together. This will look different, and certainly sound different in your home, but the sooner you can do this, the better. It’s not too late, so start now!
  3. Be intentional with downtime. This is as simple as gathering your kids around for a movie, board game, or even going on a family bike ride. Realistically speaking, when you are raising children with special needs, there is really no such thing as downtime. However, “unscheduled” time can be intentionally structured.
  4. Build in fun education. Where we live in Central Indiana, we have several park nature centers where our kids can have fun and also learn. It keeps their minds stimulated and gives them a focused activity. Zoos are great for this. Another avenue for fun education is through your kids’ school. We asked teachers before the school year ended to provide summer reading schedules and incentives. It’s a win for our school as much as it is for us.
  5. Publicize the daily schedule. In conjunction with your routine, you need to create a visible daily schedule. One of our sons is on the autism spectrum and continually asks, “What’s next?” We decided to create and publicize the schedule for him to see and it helps. When his brain is telling him to ask and ask, he’s able to visit our kitchen’s bulletin board and read exactly what we are doing next. While we don’t really mind the repeat questions, the visible schedule reassures him and gives him security.
  6. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Our good friend, Dr. Ira Chasnoff from NTI Upstream has a great perspective for helping kiddos like ours navigate through their days. He says, “Whatever you do one day, repeat the next. The key is to repeat, repeat, repeat.” No matter what, repeat, repeat, repeat. The only way to build up consistency with your kiddos and your routine is repeating the same thing every single day.

Our new normal functions differently than families with children without special needs. When I accept what is, I’m able to not only see the beauty right in front of me, I have the chance to create memories with the beautiful children I’m blessed to call mine.

Here’s to summer — and your peace of mind!

Check out more posts by Mike & Kristin Berry that offer hope for families in the trenches at:

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How thinking about behavior differently can lead to happier FASD families


A new study from the University of Rochester sheds light on how parents and caregivers of children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) can best help their kids, and at the same time, maintain peace at home and at school.

“Children with FASD often have significant behavior problems due to neurological damage,” says Christie Petrenko, a research psychologist at the University’s Mt. Hope Family Center.

Petrenko and her colleagues found that parents of children with FASD who attribute their child’s misbehavior to their underlying disabilities–rather than to willful disobedience–tend to use pre-emptive strategies designed to help prevent undesirable behaviors. These strategies are likely to be more effective than incentive-based strategies, such as the use of consequences for misbehavior, given the brain damage associated with FASD.

The study included 31 parents and caregivers of children with FASD ages four through eight. Petrenko and her team analyzed data from standardized questionnaires and qualitative interviews that focused on parenting practices.

Petrenko says that the study, which is published in Research in Developmental Disabilities, shows that educating families and caregivers about the disorder is critical.

People with FASD often have problems with executive functioning, which includes skills such as impulse control and task planning, information processing, emotion regulation, and social and adaptive skills. As a result, they are at high risk for school disruptions and trouble with the law.

Parents who use pre-emptive strategies “change the environment in a way that fits their child’s needs better,” says Petrenko. “They give one-step instructions rather than three-steps because their child has working memory issues. They may buy clothes with soft seams if their child has sensory issues, or post stop signs to cue the child to not open the door. All of these preventive strategies help reduce the demands of the environment on the child.”

The study also shows that parenting practices correlate with levels of caregiver confidence and frustration. Families of children with FASD are frequently judged and blamed for their children’s misbehavior. Parents and caregivers who are successful in preventing unwanted behaviors have higher confidence in their parenting and lower levels of frustration with their children than parents who counter unwanted behaviors with consequences after the fact.

Petrenko says that evidence-based interventions for families raising children with FASD have been developed and show promise for improving outcomes for children and families. She and her team at Mt. Hope Family Center are continuing to further test these interventions and identify what strategies and approaches are most effective in getting evidence-based information to families.


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Tips for School Success

Thanks for to our tip sheet committee for putting this together for us.


Click image to download tip sheet

Please note that you can find this and previous posted tips sheets on the following links.

Specific Tips

Seasonal and Holiday Tips


Last but not least – FASD Support Network of Saskatchewan Tips

New Guidelines To Prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Released

The American Academy of Pediatrics has new advice out for parents to protect babies from sudden infant death syndrome. SIDS claims the lives of about 3,500 babies each year in the U.S




Photo Source: Sudden Infant Death Syndrom (SIDS) –



All right. We have some tips now for new parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics is releasing new advice today about how to protect babies from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. SIDS claims the lives of about 3,500 babies each year in the United States.


Pediatricians say there are some very simple things that can sharply lower that risk. A big one – always put babies to sleep on their backs, never on their stomachs. And also on a very firm surface, such as a crib with a tight-fitting sheet. Never let a baby sleep on a soft couch or chair.



Photo Source:


GREENE: The new recommendations also advise parents to keep their sleeping babies in the same room with them at night, preferably for a full year, but at least for the first six months. Here is Rachel Moon, who helped write the new guidelines.

RACHEL MOON: We do know that if a baby is in the same room and not on the same surface as a parent, that the risk of dying is halved compared to if the baby’s in a separate room.



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MONTAGNE: And that’s pretty big. So, again, an infant should always sleep in his or her own crib or bassinet, and never with anything that could smother a baby, like crib bumpers, blankets, pillows or soft toys.

Disclaimer:  The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Edmonton and Area Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network.


Coaching Families Caregiver Support Group – November 08, 2016

Attention Parents/Caregivers of children and adults with FASD

Would you like to meet other parents and caregiver like you?  Well, this is your chance! You do not have to be a client of this program in order to attend this support group. It also doesn’t matter if your child is over the age of 18!

Here is what you can expect, meeting parents/caregivers like you and collectively problems solve, share successes and generate ideas.

Do you have little ones at home and can’t find a babysitter? No problem! There will be a limited child programming for those who can not find a babysitter.  Please let Roxanna know how many children you intend to bring so they are able to provide the best possible experience for you and your children.

Kindly RSVP by November 04, 2016 to Roxanna Clermont by:

Phone: 780-721-2236 OR Email:



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