​​Hosted by SISP student committee, McGill University

Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology

Vannesa Joly

Vanessa is a third-year student of the School and Clinical Child Psychology PhD program at the University of Alberta under the supervision of Dr. Jacqueline Pei. Vanessa is passionate about community-based and applied research, and has related experiences on several projects related to FASD, including self-regulation, employment, and housing. Vanessa is also currently involved in ongoing research projects related to the Towards Healthy Outcomes framework and Client-Oriented Mapping for Point of care Access to Supports and Services (COMPASS).

Sponsored by 

Jacqueline Pei (R. Psych., PhD)​

Dr Pei is a Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Alberta. Dr Pei began her career as a criminologist and forensic counselor working with incarcerated youth. Motivated by this early work, she returned to academia to study youth at risk, child development, and neuropsychology. Now, as a researcher, and a practicing Registered Psychologist for the past twenty years, her research focus includes identification and evaluation of interventions to support healthy outcomes for youth put at risk, and in particular individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Dr Pei has over 100 peer-reviewed publications and reports, but places the greatest value on her work with various community and government agencies. To this end, Dr Pei currently leads the Intervention Network Action Team (iNAT), and is Senior Research Lead for the Canada FASD Research Network, roles that facilitate the link between research, policy, and practice.

Kathleen Kennedy

Kathleen is a PhD student in the School and Clinical Child Psychology Program (SCCP) and completed her Master’s in the same program. Kathleen is supervised by Dr. Jacqueline Pei and contributes to ongoing projects related to the Towards Healthy Outcomes framework and the COMPASS project under Dr. Pei’s supervision. Kathleen is dedicated to research and collaborations that focus on improving the assessment and intervention practices delivered to individuals with FASD and her dissertation research focuses on the psychological assessment practices with individuals from linguistically diverse backgrounds.

​What is FASD?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term used to describe the brain- and body-based impairments experienced by an individual exposed prenatally to alcohol (PAE; Cook et al., 2016). Individuals with FASD experience an array of difficulties across physical, cognitive, social-emotional, and behavioural functioning. Without appropriate and targeted support, individuals with FASD are at risk of experiencing a wide range of adverse outcomes throughout the lifespan (McLachlan et al., 2020; Streissguth et al., 1996, 2004). Conservative prevalence estimates in North America range from 2 to 5% and within the Canadian context, the annual economic impact is estimated to be between $1.8 and 9.7 billion across sectors (May et. al., 2018; Popova et al., 2015, 2019; Thanh & Johnson, 2015). Given the prevalence rates of FASD and the known impacts of PAE on various domains of functioning, it is well understood that the range of strengths and needs experienced by individuals with FASD in Canada require evidence-based interventions and well-suited services to optimize healthy outcomes across the lifespan.

A Growth Mindset Framework

People, regardless of their unique strengths and difficulties, are motivated towards growth and desired outcomes throughout the lifespan. The Towards Healthy Outcomes (THO) framework for individuals with FASD offers an individualized, evidence-based framework that facilitates goal setting and planning with individuals with FASD across the lifespan (Joly et al., 2022). THO emphasizes a growth mindset, and is guided by a developmental lifespan perspective, recognition of the impacts of interactive systems in the lives of individuals with FASD, and a strengths-based approach towards addressing needs and pursuing goals with individuals with FASD (Joly et al., 2022; Pei et al., 2019). The THO framework includes 10 developmental domains (see image 1) that highlight some of the central developmental opportunities and systems of support that may be incorporated into proactive planning and goal setting. Incorporation of research evidence related to both human development and FASD in particular, facilitates appreciation for the intersection of needs and goals – in a way that may enhance understanding of observed concerns, delineate potential pathways for success, and ultimately create space for a balanced and shared understanding of individuals that is non-stigmatizing and person focused (Pei et al., 2019). In short, THO is an evidence-based, individualized framework that offers consistency across services, improves intentionality when providing support, creates opportunities for integrated communication among supports, and acts as a mechanism to streamline links between research and practice (Joly et al., 2022).

​Image 1: The Towards Healthy Outcomes framework (Pei et al., 2019).

Evidence for the FASD Population

Through careful examination and understanding of FASD researchers and practitioners alike have dedicated efforts to establish how to best meet the needs of the FASD population. Researchers have recently confirmed that appropriate interventions for individuals with FASD have the potential to contribute to desired impacts across the lifespan (Petrenko & Kautz-Turnbull, 2019; Reid et al., 2022). For example, self-regulation, a particular area of challenge for many individuals with FASD, has been improved in children and adolescents with FASD following completion of a targeted intervention (Soh et al., 2015). Similarly, family focused interventions that take into account enhanced family understanding and ways to leverage family expertise have been linked to improved family functioning and a greater sense of hope for individuals with FASD and their caregivers/parents (Petrenko & Kautz-Turnbull, 2019). Strengths-based approaches to intervention have also been linked with enhanced well-being (Reid et al., 2022). Those with lived experiences including families of individuals with FASD emphasize the importance of leveraging strengths within intervention and service delivery.

Given the prevalence and complexity of FASD, individuals with FASD experience unique areas of strengths and needs. As a result, they are likely to require tailored interventions and well-suited service delivery, including strengths-based approaches. An intervention framework like Towards Healthy Outcomes, offers opportunities for research findings to be consistently integrated with individual needs to support well-being and healthy development. In addition to the structure THO provides to organize the empirical evidence, it also increases the availability of the evidence and enhances consistent communication and languaging amongst those who work with or have lived experiences with individuals with FASD. 

In sum, the Towards Healthy Outcomes offers a framework by which research findings can be consistently integrated with individual needs to support well-being and healthy development. Individuals with FASD who receive such supports, including appropriate interventions, can achieve healthy outcomes across the lifespan.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and the Towards Healthy Outcomes Framework

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