WELCOME TO THE DINO ISLAND RESEARCH PROGRAM
Dino Island training program for attention and executive function
Welcome to Uvic’s Dino Island
Use the tabs below to learn about our training, team, and research
Dino Island (DI) is a cognitive intervention designed to improve attention and EF abilities in children, which combines the appeal of tablet-based gaming with the effectiveness of an in-person, interventionist-child structure. Dino Island represents the latest iteration in a long-line of validated cognitive interventions based on neuroscientific approaches to rehabilitation/habilitation of cognitive abilities.
The previous iteration of Dino Island (Carribean Quest) when delivered in schools by support workers, led to gains in children in attention and executive functions, which were seen in their daily lives in the areas of self-regulation, self-monitoring, metacognitive awareness, and academic fluency.
DI was developed with the specific goals of being effective, affordable, and accessible to for all children and families. The unique self-adjusting design enables the program to automatically stay at the appropriate difficulty level for each specific child, while the platform’s game format fosters ongoing child engagement.
A companion website provides ‘interventionist’ training that is tailored to non- professionals (e.g., parents, teachers, support workers) by introducing evidence-based strategies for teaching problem-solving techniques (i.e., ‘metacognitive strategies’) to children, which helps generalize the target skills to other areas of the child’s life (e.g., classroom, home, peer interactions). This training program provides new knowledge and skills in the interventionist to support children with NDDs. It also builds capacity within community systems by reducing the need for specialized health and education professionals.
DI is designed with the goal of permitting remote and/or resource-limited communities to address needs that might otherwise go unmet, thus reducing burdens upon individuals, families, and broader systems. Dino Island is currently undergoing clinical validation research with a range of different children and families across Canada. Because Dino Island mainly targets the areas of attention and EF, each of these areas is briefly described below. Through this intervention, these key areas are improved as children learn and practice new skills, taking advantage of the brain’s ability to change and improve over time, a concept known as ‘neuroplasticity.’
Why are attention and executive functions important?
Attention and Executive Functions (EF) are important for self-control, self-regulation, flexibility, perseverance, school/work success, making/keeping friends, and mental/psychological health. Attention and EF problems are common in children for a variety of reasons, and failure to address these concerns may lead to long term difficulties with learning, health, and quality of life. While a number of cognitive training programs have sought to address these needs, those currently available have been shown to be ineffective, expensive, and/or inaccessible to those in remote communities or without access to specialized professionals.
Executive functions are what allow a child to make and pursue goals in their daily lives. This includes the abilities to resist impulsive actions (‘inhibition’), to adjust to unexpected changes (flexibility and creative problem solving), and to stay focused on the task at hand (i.e., self-control).
[ Video clip: https://youtu.be/LIT73VpSEUA ]
Attention & Working Memory
Attention includes abilities such as staying focused on something important (i.e., ‘sustained attention’), shifting attention from one task/item to another, and dividing attention between different tasks, etc.
Working Memory is what allows a person to hold important/relevant information in mind long enough to complete a task. For example, dialing a number while being distracted or working with the information while adding numbers up in your head both require working memory.
See it in action.
The Dino Island intervention program consists of five ‘serious games,’ meaning that they are designed for a therapeutic purpose (i.e., improving attention and EF), but incorporate the look and feel of a video game to help interest and motivate children. Each of the games focus on various aspects of attention and EF, progressively becoming more difficult as children succeed. As children begin to struggle with more difficult task/game demands, the program automatically adjusts to make sure that children do not become overly discouraged.
Interventionists (i.e. parents, educational assistants, etc.) receive online training that provides a foundational understanding of cognitive intervention, including specific lessons on how to effectively teach/scaffold problem-solving strategies so that children will eventually master the concepts and be able to use them independently in their daily lives.
In the video below, which was taken from a recent spotlight of Dino Island at the Kids Brain Health Network 2020 Conference, Dr. Sarah Macoun and some of her industry partners and trainees provide an overview of the intervention and some of the ways it has made an impact in the community…
[ Video clip: Day3_1115_IndustryAcademia.mp4 ]
IS DINO ISLAND A VIDEO GAME?
Dino Island is a ‘serious game’. Serious games look like video games, but they are in fact different as they are designed for a designed for a therapeutic cause as opposed to entirely entertainment purposes. Integration of treatment into serious games permits us to deliver interventions in a way that is engaging, effective, and accessible.
Serious games are an ideal format for process specific interventions for children because interventions that may typically feel ‘boring’ or ‘repetitive’ can be programmed into a fun and interesting activity. In fact, research comparing cognitive training that is delivered in a serious game format versus non-game format indicated that children trained on the game version showed greater motivation as reflected by time spent training, better training performance, and better outcomes.
Serious games can also be programmed to automatically adjust the level of difficulty depending on the user’s performance and to deliver intervention in a hierarchical (easy to more difficult) manner. Not only is this critical for intervention effectiveness, but also permits these types of interventions to be delivered more remotely and by non-experts (the expertise is programmed into the game!).
However, it is important to note that outcomes are maximized when serious games are combined with in-person interventionist support. As a result, the Dino Island program combines both table-based gaming with support by an adult in the child’s circle of care (parent, support worker, educational assistant, teacher, etc.).
Meet Our Team
Principle Investigator Sarah J. Macoun, Ph.D.
Dr. Macoun is a Registered Psychologist and PhD level Pediatric Neuropsychologist, with a faculty appointment in the University of Victoria Psychology Department. Dr. Macoun has extensive experience working with children with neurodevelopmental disorders, particularly those with attention and self-regulation problems, including children with ASD, ADHD, FASD, and Learning Disorders. She has clinical and research expertise with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders and with rehabilitation of attention, executive function, and regulation difficulties. Prior to her appointment at the University of Victoria, Dr. Macoun worked as a practicing psychologist within schools and has over 15 years of practical experience working with children and their families, school teams, and community teams/agencies. She continues to engage in consultation with families, schools and community agencies/professionals, and is heavily involved in training and supervision of new psychologists. Her research is applied with a primary focus on practical applications in real-world contexts. As the primary investigator and team lead, Dr. Macoun is responsible for directly overseeing all aspects of this project.
Buse Bedir, M.Sc.
Buse is a second-year PhD student in the Neuropsychology stream of the University of Victoria Clinical Psychology Program. Buse previously completed her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and M.Sc. at the University of Victoria. Buse’s master’s thesis involved adapting Dino Island to a typically developing preschool population to understand whether the intervention could be used with young preschoolers. Buse hopes to use Dino Island with preschoolers from lower socio-economic backgrounds as a preventative training tool in the future. She also has strong interests in working with individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders.
Yaewon Kim, M.Sc.
Jessi Lewis, M.Sc.<br />
Jessi is the study coordinator for Dino Island projects and a doctoral student in the clinical neuropsychology program at the University of Victoria. She completed her Master’s thesis on the cognitive contributors to reading difficulties in Autism Spectrum Disorder and is interested in assessment and intervention within the school setting. Jessi has many years of experience working with children in school, home, and research settings and is looking forward to working as a pediatric clinical neuropsychologist in the future. In her free time, Jessi enjoys running, reading, and watching all Michigan sports.
John Sheehan, M.Sc.<br />
John is a senior PhD student in the Child Development Lab and is the Dino Island lead on parent intervention delivery training and fidelity monitoring for the Dino Island project and is currently a doctoral student in the clinical neuropsychology program at the University of Victoria. After completing his undergraduate at the University of Utah, his Master’s thesis at UVic focused on the development of preschool assessment measures for executive functioning. For his dissertation, John is investigating the impact of the Dino Island intervention program on cognitive and behavioral flexibility in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. For fun, John enjoys exploring Vancouver Island with his wife and three children, playing music (violin), and winter sports (hocky and skiing).
Meghan is a fifth-year undergraduate student working towards a BSc in Psychology and a minor in Health and Society. She joined the Child Development Lab as a research assistant in 2018 and has been involved with various aspects of the Dino Island project. She is currently writing an honours thesis under the supervision of Dr. Macoun and John Sheehan, which focuses on cognitive rehabilitation of attention and executive function challenges in children with neurodevelopmental disorders, using a parent-delivery model of Dino Island.
Emma Cobby, Research Assistant
Emma is a fifth year psychology major and currently in her second year working in the lab. She has been volunteering with autistic children for 4 years now and is very excited to be involved with this research and what it may bring in the future!
Rem D’Ambrosio, Research Assistant
Rem is a graduate of the UVic Honours Psychology program, under the supervision of Dr. Macoun. His areas of academic interest include cognition, computer software, and the remote administration of mental health care. He has been a part of the Dino Island project for several years and continues to assist in a volunteer capacity.
Jenna Malaika, Research Assistant
Jenna is a fourth year BSc Psychology student at the University of Victoria that is currently focusing her studies on neuropsychology and related fields. She is passionate about pursuing a career in clinical neuropsychology after graduation and hopes to participate in the honours program next year. In her spare time, she loves to get outside and go hiking, camping, and surfing. Living in Victoria has allowed her to pursue her academic goals, as well as continue her hobbies year-round!
Kirby Way, Research Assistant
I am a third year undergraduate student completing a combined degree in biology and psychology. I am passionate about the health and well-being of individuals with neurological and developmental disorders. Consequently, I hope to pursue a career in clinical neuropsychology. I also volunteer with the Victoria Brain Injury Society working with clients with acquired brain injury. In my free time, I enjoy being active outdoors, baking, and exploring Vancouver Island.
Alliya Williams, Research Assistant
Alliya is an undergraduate in her second year of psychology. She plans to go further in her studies to get a master’s degree. She is interested in working with youth and hopes to integrate this into her future career as a child psychologist or play therapist. In her free time, she enjoys activities outdoors, including hiking, skiing, and surfing.
Shelley is in her fifth and final year of her Bachelor of Science in Psychology. She joined the Child Development lab last spring, and is currently conducting an independent study on pediatric cognitive rehabilitation. Her research interests include remote intervention methods for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities, executive function in Autism Spectrum disorder, and serious games. In her free time, Shelley enjoys hiking and volunteering with Vancouver Island Health Authority. Following graduation, she hopes to pursue a graduate degree in School Psychology.
Brian Katz, Ph.D., R.Psych.
Vice President of Child and Youth Services, The Centre for Child Development
Dr. Brian Katz is a Registered Psychologist and the Vice President of Child and Youth Services at The Centre for Child Development in Surrey, BC. At The Centre, Dr. Katz leads a team of psychologists, social workers, key workers, and mental health clinicians providing services to 3,000 children with special needs each year throughout the Lower Mainland of BC. Dr. Katz has research and clinical experience
working with children with an array of neurodevelopmental and physical disorders. Dr. Katz is currently a co-investigator on an SSHRC funded study on cognitive development in children with neurodevelopmental disorders as well as Mitacs funded study evaluating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on services to families with young children. Dr. Katz is also a contributor to Dino Island, a KBHN funded project based at The University of Victoria, which is a “serious game” designed to
remediate executive functioning deficits in children with neurodevelopmental disorders.
Dr. Katz received a Ph.D. in clinical-child psychology from DePaul University in Chicago, IL. He also holds masters degrees in psychology from both DePaul University and New York University, and bachelor degrees in Psychology and English Literature from Washington University in St Louis. Dr. Katz completed a residency in pediatric psychology at the Ann and Robert Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, IL. He completed a post-doctoral fellowship in juvenile forensic psychology at Brown University Alpert Medical School in Providence, RI where he conducted clinical and research work with youth who were detained, incarcerated, or on probation.
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Kids Uncomplicated Inc
Robyn Woods is a Canadian digital health leader focused on low-cost, easy-to-use, high impact digital health solutions. She is an advocate for vulnerable populations, a social entrepreneur obsessed with health equity and access, and the founder and CEO of The Uncomplicated Family Corporate Group – a rapidly expanding group of quality of life companies that includes Teleroo, Kids Uncomplicated, and Kids Digital Health.
As a clinician herself, Robyn’s digital health innovations prioritize continuity of care, care pathways, personalized care, health care affordability, and personal privacy and security. She focuses on solutions that meet people where they are, and supports physicians, allied health professionals, family support workers, and caregivers to serve collaboratively and affordably. Robyn was also the project leader for the highly lauded Panacea Gaming Platform Project (PGP). The PGP received the prestigious Eureka label by the European High Commission for state of the art software-intensive
services with global impact .The PGP was the first Canadian-led Eureka Cluster project in history spanning four countries and three continents.
In 2019, Robyn was recognized as one of Digital Health Canada’s 2019 Women Leaders in Digital Health. Her other awards include 2019 Canadian Business Chicks Innovation Award Trailblazer: STEM, Alberta Woman Entrepreneur of the Year: Upsurge Award and 2016 Ernst and Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year award for the prairie provinces. She has presented her digital health solutions to the Canadian Senate, received $100,000 through the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (Government of Canada), and was one of 12 international entrepreneurs invited to showcase her health innovations at the 2019 Abu Dhabi Special Olympics World Games to over 196 countries and 500,000 participants. Robyn lives with her partner, Brandon, in Calgary, Alberta and is a co-parent to five amazing young people.
Stella Babatunde, Research Assistant
Stella Babatunde is a Research Assistant and Family support coach at The Uncomplicated Family (TUF). She graduated from the University of Lethbridge with a B.Sc. in Neuroscience. As part of her role in TUF, Stella works with a multi disciplinary team to provide specialized services to families that have children with special needs. She works with the Dino Island research team in implementing the Dino Island study in Alberta.
Jacqueline Nyhout is the Executive Director at the Kids Uncomplicated Service Company
She is also a registered Speech-Language Pathologist who has been
integrating virtual health tools into practice since 2014. She graduated from The
University of Western Ontario with a Masters degree in Speech-Language
Pathology, as well as a Master of Arts in Linguistics with a focus on research
regarding children with Language Impairments. She has been working with
children with disabilities for nearly her whole life through organizations such as
Special Olympics. Jacqueline has a passion for supporting children with special
needs and their families through innovative, collaborative practice.
Dr. Ryan C.N. D’Arcy, Ph.D., Eng.L.
Dr. Ryan C.N. D’Arcy, Ph.D., Eng.L., is a neuroscientist and entrepreneur. He is the co-founder,
President, and Chief Scientific Officer of HealthTech Connex a brain health technology company. He also holds Professorship appointments at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia, where he serves as a BC Leadership Chair in neuroimaging and neurotechnology.
He has published more than 260 academic works, attracted more than $85 Million in competitive research and innovation funding, and been recognized through numerous awards and distinctions (e.g., Canada’s Public Service Award of Excellence and
named as a KickAss Canadian). Dr. D’Arcy is a 3X TEDx speaker, who speaks frequently on brain health innovations around the world.
Major career scientific advances include the discovery of white matter activation in functional MRI, the world’s first VR simulator for neurosurgical training and planning, the development and deployment of the world&’s first brain vital sign framework, and the utilization of neuroplasticity in brain injury to drive recovery well beyond conventional limits.
Dr. D’Arcy received a B.Sc. (with distinction) from the University of Victoria along with both M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in neuroscience from Dalhousie University (Killam Scholar). He did post-doctoral training in medical imaging physics at the National Research Council (NRC) Institute for Biodiagnostics, and holds a professional engineering designation in neuroimaging and neurotechnology (Eng.L.). While with NRC, he spent over a decade leading the development of Atlantic Canada’s biomedical imaging cluster before returning home to Vancouver in 2012 to catalyze and co-lead the development of BC&’s multi-billion dollar Health and Technology District.
Dino Island Program Research Funding
Dino Island is the latest iteration in a long-line of neuroscientific approaches to cognitive habilitation/rehabilitation. Dino Island is just completing research and development and preliminary validation, and is now in the stage of expanding clinical validation and implementation/scaling into communities (homes, schools and community agencies).
–Mitacs Accelerate Grant (UVIC, Sinneave Foundation, NeuroDevnet) 2013-2014 (populations: ASD)
-NeuroDevnet/KBHN Research Development Grant, Cycle 1 (2010-2015)
-NeuroDevNet/KBHN Strategic Initiative Grant (2015-2016) (populations: Mixed)
-CIHR Grant (co-applicant), Univesrity of Calgary Cummings School of Medicine (2017-2022) (populations: Very Preterm Birth)
-Kids Brain Health Network/Ministry of Education Research and Development Grant , Cycle II (2016-2020) (populations: NA)
-Centre for Outreach Education Grant (CORE, UVIC), 2019) (populations: Learning Disorders and ADHD)
-Internal Research Creative Project Grant, University of Victoria (2020-2021) (pouplations: ASD)
-Kids Brain Health Network, Implementation Grant, Cycle III (2020-2023) (populations: ASD, FASD, ADHD)
Upcoming Grants and Projects under review
-Mayo Clinic College of Medicine (population: Pediatric Brain Tumor)
-BC Children’s Hospital (population: Congenital Heart Defects)