This holiday season, give your time to change a life
This is Anna McMahon’s story. It illustrates how a few hours of volunteering a week can transform the lives of children and youth for the better.
It all started when Anna saw how a family member living with autism spectrum disorder struggled to find community support and one-on-one care. People with this disorder often find it challenging to interact and communicate with others. But proper supports can help improve social interaction and quality of life. This struggle ignited a passion in Anna for helping children with neurodevelopmental disorders. It brought her to study psychology at the University of Victoria and join the university’s child development laboratory and Kids Brain Health Network as a volunteer.
Her volunteering also helped Anna complete her undergraduate honours thesis. She worked on a video game treatment program called Dino Island. This fun, educational game helps children and teenagers with neurodevelopmental disorders build their attention skills, memory, mental control and self-regulation, which are instrumental in learning, mental health and growth. She also had the opportunity to deliver the game to a teenager living with autism and intellectual disability. The experience changed both their lives.
For 16 hours over eight weeks, Anna met the teenager to play the multi-level game. It consists of five mini games that increase in difficulty as the user progresses and that adapt to the user’s performance. This helps to retrain the brain and improve skills in targeted areas. Throughout the game, Anna also taught the teenager problem-solving strategies to help him succeed through the levels. Examples include repeating the items the teenager needed to collect several times to stimulate memory and coaching him to take deep breaths or go for a walk if he felt overwhelmed.
Gradually, Anna saw the teenager transform into someone who has higher levels of attention and confidence and who is able to use the strategies at school to control his emotions and feelings. These changes go a long way to helping children and youth with neurodevelopmental disorders with relationship-building, learning and overall independence as they grow up.
“Being able to deliver the game to the teenager was an amazing experience. I watched him transform from being shy to being excited and happy when he would see me come to his house to play the game,” Anna said. “I was also excited to hear that in only a few weeks, his school saw significant progress. This experience was proof that I was on the right path and it inspired me to continue making programs and games like Dino Island become more accessible and affordable to everyone.”
Anna’s journey has just begun. Under the guidance of Sarah Macoun, a pediatric neuropsychologist at the University of Victoria, and her involvement with Kids Brain Health Network, Anna has gained valuable learning skills and experience. While she still volunteers and is a trainee supported by Kids Brain Health, she also works with another organization to help children with autism spectrum disorder. Her goal is to go to graduate school and become an occupational therapist.
“Stories like Anna’s are a reminder of how important it is to help others when we can. Our government continues to support British Columbians living with neurodevelopmental disorders, especially children and youth, by providing funding to organizations such as Kids Brain Health Network,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “A special thank you to Anna and all the volunteers for your dedication and your contributions in bringing meaningful change in the lives of the people living with these disorders and their families.”
The B.C. government supports British Columbians with autism spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders. In 2019, the Province provided Kids Brain Health with $437,000 to help children and youth improve their chances of achieving the most developmental gains possible and reaching their highest potential.
Volunteering is a free and easy way to bring meaningful change to the lives of kids with autism spectrum disorder and their families. To learn more about how to volunteer, email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
- According to Autism BC, as of March 2018, one in 51 children from ages six to 18 years in British Columbia has been identified as having autism spectrum disorder, which affects each individual differently. Early diagnosis can result in early intervention.
- Dino Island was developed at the University of Victoria’s psychology department by Sarah Macoun and Kimberly Kerns through the child development laboratory.
- Kids Brain Health Network has supported and funded the project since its inception. It is the first national research network in Canada that focuses on brain development and neurodevelopmental disabilities.
- Part of the network’s mandate is to support the development of effective, affordable and accessible evidence-based programs that benefit all those involved, from participants and their families to the people delivering the programs and the communities in which they work.
To learn more about government services for people with autism spectrum disorder, visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/health/managing-your-health/child-behaviour-development/special-needs/autism-spectrum-disorder
To learn more about autism, visit: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/hw152184
To learn more about Kids Brain Health, visit: http://kidsbrainhealth.ca/
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