Are video games associated with depression in preadolescents?


Written by Marie-Eve Dubios

Well, it sure sounds that way according to a recent study conducted at the University of Texas Health Science Center. While there is a wealth of research showing how exposure to violent video games leads to increases in aggressive behaviours, the study conducted by Dr. Susan Toladero and her colleagues (2014) was among the first to show that preadolescents who are exposed to violent video games for more than 2 hours per day are also at risk of becoming depressed.

Why would that be? There’s a few reasons for that, in my opinion. A big part of this is that spending more than two hours per day playing violent video games cuts into time for positive interactions with friends, which are crucial at that age. Indeed, social isolation is an important contributing in the vicious cycle that is depression. Once a person becomes socially isolated and spends long periods of time playing video games or engaging with social media, they are likely becoming increasingly sedentary…which is bad news since reduced sleep and lack of exercise also contribute to risk for depression.

What can be done, then, especially when talking about those video games is such a big part of a child’s social interactions?

  1. Placing limits on the number of hours of screen time, especially for violent games. Indeed, the same study showed that symptoms of depression were not increased when children played less than two hours of nonviolent games per day.
  2. Encouraging physical activity: not only does it keep us fit, but it makes our brain release endorphin’s, which make us happy.
  3. Encouraging interaction with peers outside of video games.

For most children and adolescents, these small tweaks will be sufficient to decrease their risk of depression. However, if you find yourself struggling with encouraging your child or teenager to make these changes, or if they experience more severe symptoms (decreased interest in activities, lack of pleasure, difficulties to concentrate, low energy and poor self-esteem), it may be best to look for professional help. Depression tends to have a chronic course, with more symptoms and recurring episodes only increasing the risk for future bouts of depression. Getting help early not only helps in reducing this risk, but also in giving children and teenagers the tools they need to take care of themselves.

5 Tips to promote well-being in siblings of children with disabilities (Part 2)

Talk - Sibling of Autism
If your child’s disability is affecting the time and attention their siblings are getting, acknowledge that.

This is Part 2 of our 10-Part blog series about the challenges and experiences of the siblings of kids with a diagnosis. Be sure to check back for future posts in the series. 

Read all posts from this series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

As Jess expressed it in her blog post yesterday, growing up as a sibling of a child with disabilities is not always easy. Whether it is because their life is arranged around their sibling’s appointments, because they get bullied at school as a result of a sibling with a disability, or because they worry about their family’s well-being, we know that these children are at a greater risk of developing a range of emotional and behavioural problems than those raised with typically developing children. No matter whether these problems arise out of feelings of jealousy over the sibling being ‘allowed’ to misbehave when they’re not, or worry over their family’s situation, they are important to acknowledge. A recent study (Vermaes et al., 2013) showed that siblings of children with chronic health problems were at an increased risk of developing internalizing problems like anxiety and depression.

By now, you’re probably thinking ‘Well, that’s really the last thing I need to add on my plate!’. Thankfully though, there are some fairly simple ways to make things easier for your typically developing children-without you feeling even more overwhelmed than you already are:

  1. Be open about the unfairness of the situation. If your child’s disability is affecting the time and attention their siblings are getting, acknowledge that. The goal here is not to make the child with a disability feel bad for the situation, but rather to let the typically developing child know that you recognize they have needs too. [click to tweet]
  2. Create ‘special time’ with each child. ‘Special time’ is time dedicated from one parent alone with only one child. The time commitment here does not need to be particularly long: even only 5 minutes per day would suffice- as long as it is clear during that time that children will not be competing for your attention. [click to tweet]
  3. Let your typically developing child know that it’s okay to have negative feelings towards their siblings from time to time. What they are feeling is normal, and you do not love them any less because of it. [click to tweet]
  4. Make sure your child has a safe place to share these feelings. For those children who feel uncomfortable discussing their feelings with their parents, a sibling group may be helpful. It’s a great way to meet other youth going through similar things. Even if the time spent in the group isn’t always spent discussing the experience of having a sibling with a disability, it feels nice to know that others feel the same way you are and won’t judge you for it.  [click to tweet]
  5. Sometimes, siblings need their own special time where they feel free to talk about their feelings with an adult outside the family. If the child is not experiencing severe difficulties, trying to set up a Big Brother or Big Sister might be a good idea. However, sometimes, professional help is needed. The important part is that your child finds someone they can connect and share their feelings with. [click to tweet]

Check back next Wednesday for How I learned about my brother’s autism diagnosis (Part 3) or as Jess would call it, the Donkey Conversation!

What’s it like to be a sibling of a child with autism – the secret lives of siblings (Part 1)

Me and my brother with autism
When people ask me what it’s like to be a sibling of a brother with autism, I tell them with absolute sincerity of the wonderfully close relationship we’ve always had.

This is Part 1 of our 10-Part blog series about the challenges and experiences of the siblings of kids with a diagnosis. Be sure to check back for future posts in the series.

Read all posts from this series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

By Jess Urcuyo

When people ask me what it’s like to be a sibling of a brother with autism, I tell them with absolute sincerity of the wonderfully close relationship we’ve always had, that he was my inspiration to become an Occupational Therapist, and that he’s taught me to see the world as full of opportunities and potential instead of setbacks and obstacles.

I don’t tell them about my 13-year-old-self.

My 13-year-old-self didn’t need an alarm clock. She was woken every morning at the same time to the same cassette tape playing the same segment of the same story until the glorious day that tape finally snapped. She was the girl who stood in the street and yelled awareness at the village ‘big kids’ because they teased her brother because of his autism. She was the ‘good’ child, you know, the one who didn’t have any problems. The one who would hold onto secrets of being bullied long after she left school because she thought her family had enough on their plates.

Then one day, she found a book at a thrift store; The Other Child, by Linda Scotson. A book about siblings of kids with exceptionalities. There was a chapter entitled I’d Like to Kick Stuart’s Head In. She blushed from head to toe, and as nonchalantly as she could, she dropped it in her parents’ shopping basket.

I remember that night vividly. I stayed awake long after my bed-time, reading like my life depended on it. That book was a glimpse into a whole new world. A world where it was ok for siblings to experience real feelings and talk about them. It would still be many moons before I’d open up about some of the challenges I’d been through as a result of being a sister of a child with autism, but the delicious taste of that exotic cuisine was on my tongue, and I was hungry.

My Brother is Autistic
It was tough enough just to get my brother’s autism recognized.

In fairness to my parents, they did everything they knew how to, to equalize our family life. But life through the lens of a sibling wasn’t the hot topic on anyone’s agenda back in the ‘90s. It was tough enough just to get my brother’s autism recognized.

Are we any the wiser these days? I’d like to think so. But in the fast pace of life with its endless juggle of priorities, the picks ups and drop offs, the meltdowns and breakdowns, it can be easy to lose sight of the sibling experience. Some siblings might need professional support to help them on their personal journey. For others, a genuine acknowledgement that it’s ok for them to have their own achievements, challenges, and needs can go a long way towards opening up the conversation.

For the record, I’ve never once wanted to ‘kick Stuart’s head in’. But the book still sits on my shelf as a gentle reminder of the liberation that one short sentence once held for me.

Check back tomorrow for Tips to promote well-being in siblings of children with disabilities (Part 2).

5 Tips to keep your children strong in the face of terrorism


Written by Marie-Eve Dubois

This week, we’ve been surprised and shocked by brutal and violent attacks against Canadian military. On Monday, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was rammed over and killed, only 20 minutes away from my hometown, where one of my uncle is a military. On Wednesday, Cpl Nathan Cirillo was shot in front the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Needless to say, these attacks have hit close to home. As Canadians, this is not a reality we are used to- we live in a peaceful and safe country, right?

Now that our reality has changed and that these attacks are all we hear about on TV, one important question for many parents is: ‘Should I talk about this with my children? How?’ While it may seem tempting not to talk about this topic for fear that it will make children worry, this approach is one that may actually backfire. Remember that having a child keep their anxious feelings to themselves will be more damaging then having an open discussion about it. And ultimately, if they don’t hear about it from you, they will hear about it elsewhere (school, friends, etc.).

Here are a few steps if you’re wondering about how to have this discussion:

  1. Ask your children what they have heard about the events. It is not unusual for news to get distorted-think Chinese telephone. You want to make sure the information your child has is accurate. [click to tweet]
  2. Explore what is confusing, scary or troublesome for your child. Once information has entered our brain, we can interpret it in numerous ways. [click to tweet]
  3. Validate your child’s emotions. It is normal to be shocked and scared. Telling a child not to worry won’t make it better. [click to tweet]
  4. Examine what your child is making of that information and those feelings. Is your child paralyzed by fear? Does he have unrealistic ideas about what could happen? If so, try to deconstruct those thoughts. [click to tweet]
  5. Be ready to answer questions and address fears for a little while. New issues and concerns may appear over time as a child mulls over the events, develops an understanding of what has happened and what it implies. [click to tweet]

Keep in mind that these strategies should be adapted to each child’s developmental level. Also, each child will respond differently to these types of events, depending on their personality. Children who have a tendency to be anxious may react more strongly to these types of events.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. In the face of terrorism, let’s stay strong.

How to Prepare for Halloween with Children with Special Needs


It’s time again to get ready for Halloween!

For many families this means choosing costumes to wear and candies to distribute to our little “Trick or Treaters.”

With food allergies, food sensitivities and childhood obesity becoming increasing concerns in our society, we are welcoming and encouraging a new Halloween fad. Why not try offering non-food or non-candy treat options to your little ‘trick-or-treaters’ this year?  Here are some suggested ideas:

  • A page of fun stickers
  • Bubbles
  • Bracelets
  • Toy cars
  • Decorative pens
  • Bouncy balls
  • Decorated adhesive bandages
  • Mini pumpkins
  • Whistles
  • Charms
  • Balls of homemade play-dough
  • Reusable twisty straws
  • Hair barrettes
  • If you are crafty, you could decorate items. Maybe, glue some googly eyes to little acorns or twist black pipe cleaners around black pencils to make them look like spiders!

If you, yourself, have a little one who would benefit from non-food treats, you may wish to begin to drop subtle hints to friendly neighbors soon. For example,  ‘Have you heard about the non-food treat option fad? I’m excited to be doing something to keep Halloween fun, while still considering our children’s health. We’re trying to decide if bouncy balls or princess and car bandages would be more liked.”

You could also print off the attached sign to carry with you on Halloween, as a visual request.

We don’t wish to rain on the Halloween parade, as distributing candy has been an exciting tradition for our children for many years. We’re just hoping to see a few pumpkin erasers amongst the pumpkin candies in more and more Halloween bowls to come!

The team at Canoe wishes you a happy, safe and healthy Halloween!!!

Social Storytelling

Written By Jess Urcuyo

2014-9-29-social-storytellingWhat really gets your social nerves a-fluttering? What about landing the final interview for your dream job? Flying by yourself to an exotic travel destination where you don’t speak the language? Going to your significant other’s work Holiday party?

What do we do in those situations? We research interview preparation advice, we review travel blogs to read up on the local culture, we practice our elevator pitch to answer the inevitable “so, what do you do?” question. We plan for what we expect to happen and we prepare for the unexpected. It’s a story we tell ourselves where we are the main character. We tell and retell ourselves the story until we think we’ve captured all potential situations that might happen. We rehearse our story until we’re comfortable that we’ll be successful.

That’s a social story. Almost…

Social stories are a technique created by Carol Gray, Director of The Gray Centre for Social Learning and Understanding in Grandville, Michigan in the early 90’s. The technique was first used with children with autism, but the approach has since been found to be successful across the lifespan and with many other diagnoses, as well as individuals who don’t have a diagnosis.

Social stories are designed to provide personal preparation for a challenging situation. Typically written in the first person, present tense, social stories are a script for appropriate behaviour and assist in understanding the perspective of others. Social stories are often a combination of pictures and sentences at the appropriate level of complexity for the individual.

Social stories are used by therapists, teachers, and parents alike to work through social challenges from dealing with fire drills, to accepting losing a game, sharing toys, or even understanding why it’s important to make eye contact.

Read a social story (PDF) that was used to help Emma overcome her debilitating fear of dogs.

School Suspensions: Good or Bad?

Written by Dr. Marie-Eve Dubois

school-suspensionsWe’re now a few weeks into the school year, and while we’d hope things would be settling by now, this is not always the case. Children who had been doing well for a few weeks are now testing their teacher’s limits, while parents of other children have already started receiving calls saying their child might get suspended. One way or the other, these phone calls are distressing to many parents. Aren’t suspensions bad? Or is there any positive to them?

School suspensions are one of the consequences used in hopes of helping students regulate their poor behaviours. However, as a psychologist, this strategy has always boggled my mind. Essentially, the strategy involves having a student stay home for a given amount of time (a day or more) for displaying poor behaviours in school. For most children, this will feel more like a reward than a punishment, which was the initial intention. As a general rule, in-school suspensions or other more appropriate consequences should be chosen. For example, if the child misbehaved in a class on multiple occasions and has led the teacher to miss out on teaching time, the child should have to ‘give time’ to the teacher to ‘repair’ their misbehaviour (for example, helping the teacher prepare other activities outside of class time).

However, as with any good rule, there are always exceptions. School suspensions could be argued as a ‘good’ thing for children with special needs. Parents of children with special needs tend to get more calls than other parents to come and pick their child up from school for poor behaviours. However, parents should refuse to simply pick up a child. Ideally, what would be needed is a plan for the school to handle such behaviours. Otherwise, parents should ask whether their child is being suspended, in which case they’ll come to pick them up. Seems unusual, right? It turns out that whenever a child is suspended, a note in their record is made. Many school suspensions in a child record could then be used to argue that the school is not meeting the child’s need, and that the child needs additional services.

What have your experiences been with suspensions? Good or bad?


How Can an IPRC Help Your Child?

Written by Diesje Hiltemann

how-can-an-iprc-help-your-child1Your child has a diagnosis, you’ve informally discussed their needs with their teacher, and the Principal has agreed to provide support when it’s available. Seems like a smooth start to the school year, right? Right…everything is great until the support isn’t available when your child needs it.

Did you know that you have the right to formally identify your child’s needs and have your school commit to the support that is appropriate for child to receive? That’s what an IPRC can do for you.

An IPR–what??

The IPRC is the Independent Placement and Review Committee. It’s a vital step for all children who have an exceptionality, whether they are gifted, have a learning disability, or have another diagnosis such as autism or ADHD.

Only two people can ask for an IPRC meeting to be called – the parent or the school principal. The IPRC is where you, the parent has a voice. Don’t pass up on your right to be heard. Request it in writing to your principal.

What does the IPRC do for my child?

There are three main decisions made at an IPRC:

  1. Is the student exceptional?
  2. What is the exceptionality?
  3. What is the appropriate placement?

How do I know if my child is exceptional?

If their diagnosis impacts one of the following areas, they may be considered exceptional:

  1. Communication
  2. Behaviour
  3. Intellectual
  4. Physical
  5. Multiple categories

how-can-an-iprc-help-your-child2What placements are available to my child?

  1. Regular classroom with indirect support
  2. Regular classroom with resource assistance
  3. Regular classroom with withdrawal assistance (at least 50% of the day in a regular classroom)
  4. A special education classroom with partial integration (your child can go into the regular class for up to 50% of the day)
  5. A special education class on a full time basis

I’ve decided to request an IPRC – what else do I need to know?

  1. Read your school board’s Special Education Plan
  2. Understand the Special Education Laws
  3. Understand how to work with the system to get what your child needs
  4. Have a realistic sense of what is possible
  5. You have the right to bring an advocate with you – it could be a therapist working with your child, a professional educational advocate, or a family member/friend.

For more information, consult the following:

Halton District School Board Special Education Plan:

Halton Catholic District School Board- Special Education Annual Plan:

Visual Schedules

With the new school year begun, many of our little ones are showing difficulty adjusting to their new routines. Some children can be disorganized as they attempt to complete their morning routine. Others experience stress at school with not knowing what activities will come next, and the comfort of knowing when it’s home-time is a mystery. Visual schedules are a simple, easy to make item that parents and teachers can create, to support these children. Here is an idea for morning routines!


Simply, take clothes pins, and write the morning tasks on each one. Tasks may include; brush teeth, eat breakfast, and kissing parents’ good bye. Your child can hang this schedule on his or her bedroom door, and remove each clothespin as each task is completed.

Here’s another idea for a school routine:


Parents and teachers can find pictures online to print, laminate and affix with Velcro on their backs. Pictures should include all activities that occur at school, so parents are encouraged to connect with classroom teachers about events of the day. Typically, you will find recess, circle time, gym, assembly, table activities, free play, lunch and home time as part of most school routines. Simply have a bag or basket to hold the pictures displaying activities for the day. The classroom teacher can place the pictures sequentially in place within view of your child to refer to throughout the day. Pictures can be ripped off and returned to the basket as each task is completed!

My tummy doesn’t want to go to school!

Has your child suddenly started having tummy aches right before going to school? Or better, feeling nauseous, causing you to cancel work for the day at the last minute? Maybe junior is even calling you from school because he’s in horrible pain? You’ve visited your family doctor or pediatrician, maybe even went through a few blood tests or other exams, and EVERYTHING is fine?

Seems like your child is suffering from the oh-so-common ‘My tummy doesn’t want to go to school’ phenomenon…which is more commonly referred to as Somatization. Soma-what?! What this means is that your child is expressing some underlying psychological distress, typically anxiety, through physical symptoms. What happens when we’re anxious is that our autonomic nervous system, which regulates our breathing, digestion and heartbeat, goes into overdrive into a fight or flight response. Our breath and heartbeat grows faster and faster, and our muscles get ready to get into action. Except, there’s no lion to fight, so that response which was adaptive for our ancestors is not so helpful. That tension will then lead to stomach aches, nausea, headaches, etc.

Here are a few tricks to deal with the daily tummy pain:

1)      Acknowledge your child is in pain. It’s not ‘in his head’. His or her anxiety is ACTUALLY creating physical symptoms…like when you have to give a presentation at work and your hands get sweaty, but worse.

2)      Practice ‘belly breathing’ twice a day for 5 minutes. If you’ve done any yoga, this is essentially how you’ve been taught to breathe. The goal is to have your child breathe in (from his/her nose) for about 3 seconds, then breathe out (from his/her mouth), for another 3 seconds. Only the belly should be moving (not the chest). Once your child has mastered this strategy in non-stressful situations (for example, when coming back from school and after story time), encourage him to use this strategy when the tummy ache manifests itself.  Here are some ways to make this more enticing:

  1. Ask your child to imagine a balloon of his favourite colour in his tummy. He is to then inflate and deflate that imaginary balloon.
  2. You can also take a small stuffed animal or toy and place it on your child’s stomach when he is lying down. The goal is to have the toy move up and down.
  3. Pretend to blow bubbles, or blow real bubbles! This will force your child to breathe out slowly from the mouth.

3)      DO NOT REINFORCE AVOIDANCE! Establish a rule that your child will have to go to school even with a tummy pain, unless he or she is having a fever or vomiting. Explain to his teacher and/or school secretary that you will not pick your child up from school unless he is having a fever or vomiting. Letting your child stay home or picking him up from school will only reinforce the idea that school is anxiety-provoking and dangerous…why else would your child feel so great when he gets home?

4)      Make sure to try to figure out what it is that is making your child nervous about going to school. Is He noticing he’s not on par with others? Is he getting bullied?

If you’ve tried this at home and are not seeing any improvements, consult with a qualified professional. Cognitive-behavioural therapy is a great way to help!