Why we need to do a better job of serving children who are neurodiverse

December 7, 2023

Centre Director Charlotte Waddell gave a Zoom talk to close to 300 parents, practitioners and policy makers on Dec. 2. The talk was titled, “Neurodiversity and mental health: Serving children better.”

The presentation covered the following themes:

  • The need to create communities where all children are welcomed and celebrated, and where services are delivered according to needs so that all children can flourish and meet their potential.
  • The prevalence of anxiety, ADHD, behaviour disorders and depression, which are higher for children experiencing three particular forms of neurodiversity (autism spectrum disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome disorder and intellectual disability).
  • The research evidence for effective treatments for these four conditions for children with the three forms of neurodiversity.
  • The effective treatments for other common childhood mental disorders that can also be offered, with adaptations when needed

“We need to ensure that timely and effective treatments are offered to all children, particularly if they are neurodiverse, given higher prevalence rates,” Waddell told the group.

The talk ended with celebrating people who are neurodiverse, and the communities that support them over the lifespan.

Waddell then stayed on the Zoom call to respond to questions and comments. She also joined a small breakout group discussion to learn more about parent’s perspectives.

A recording of the talk can be seen here.


Two new studies on Covid-19 published by CHPC scholar

October 31, 2023

A new study on the Covid-19 pandemic by SFU Assistant Professor and CHPC team member Kim Thomson, has just been published in Plos One.

The study found that parents with children at home reported nearly double pre-pandemic population estimates of moderate to severe psychological distress.

Psychological distress was more frequently reported among parents with pre-existing mental health conditions, disabilities and financial stressors. As well, parents with greater psychological distress reported an increase in negative interactions with their children as a result of the pandemic, and perceived higher anxiety in their children.

“These results highlight that meaningful responses to promote mental health among parents and families must address social and structural inequalities,” the report concluded.

In the same timeframe, Thomson was also co-author of another paper on the Covid-19 pandemic, this one published in the Journal of Adolescence. It profiled the social connectedness among early adolescents in Grade 7 before the pandemic was declared (Winter 2020) and in Grade 8 during the second wave of the pandemic (Winter 2021).

The paper concluded that connectedness with peers and adults in Grade 7 was significantly related to higher levels of mental wellbeing in Grade 8 even during the Covid-19 pandemic, highlighting the protective role of social connection.




Child and youth mental health practitioners and policymakers urged to address service gaps

October 24, 2023

Charlotte Waddell, Centre Director, gave a Sept. 14 talk with the Doctors of BC, Community of Practice on Child and Youth Mental Health. The talk was titled, “Children’s mental health: Research for informing practice and policy.”

Waddell covered crucial messages including the high prevalence of childhood mental disorders and the severe service shortages — with fewer than half of children with these disorders getting any kind of help.

For this talk, which took place in Vancouver with an audience of approximately 100 family physicians, child and youth psychiatrists and policymakers, among others, she urged strong advocacy — to not only address the service gaps, but also ensure that BC invests in effective prevention programs to reduce needs in the population. Waddell noted: “Your advocacy can and will be very powerful in making a difference for children.”

New scholar joins the Children’s Health Policy Centre

October 12, 2023

A passion for child and youth mental health has brought Kimberly Thomson to Simon Fraser University and the Children’s Health Policy Centre.

Recently named an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, Thomson started her academic career by earning an undergrad degree in psychology from Queens University. Thinking initially what she’d become a counsellor, she did her Master’s degree in educational and counselling psychology at the University of BC.

“But I ended up pivoting away from a purely clinical perspective when I started working with a team looking at children’s health from a population level,” Thomson recalls. She then joined the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP)  team at UBC, becoming a research coordinator supporting the pilot of a population-based survey of child wellbeing.

Shortly after that, she began her PhD in population and public health. Her dissertation focused on finding early indicators of children’s social and emotional development at the time they entered school. Her objective? To see how these indicators related to the children’s future mental health and well-being, using both public health administrative data and also children’s self-reports.

“One of the main takeaways was that more than 40% of children entering the school system were showing up with relative social-emotional vulnerabilities,” she said, citing higher than average scores for issues such as anxiety or hyperactivity.

Following graduation, Thomson did a post-doc in Melbourne, Australia, where she worked at Deakin University with a group studying the social factors and conditions that predict child and youth mental health. There, she was helping to investigate one of the earliest origins of childhood mental health challenges – among the parent’s generation. “We suspect there are multiple pathways between generations,” she says. “It can be genetic, but it can also be psychological and social.”

But, caught in the crosshairs of the Covid pandemic, Thomson returned to Canada earlier than expected, in 2020. She transferred back to HELP and began looking at mental health outcomes among subgroups that might have experienced inequities, including children who came to Canada as immigrants or refugees. She also studied the impacts of the pandemic on child and youth mental health, including working with the Canadian Mental Health Association, the BC Ministry of Education and the BC Teachers’ Federation.

Most recently, she worked at the BC Centre for Disease Control as an evaluation specialist with the population and public health team. “This was a great opportunity to apply my skills in evaluating programs and initiatives that are trying to address underlying social factors — such as food insecurity — that influence population health,” she said.

But when an opportunity arose with the Children’s Health Policy Centre, Thomson leapt at the chance. “I’ve always been interested in the intersection between research and policy and practice,” she says. “What drew me to the CHPC was the alignment of our goals. I’m especially interested in opportunities to intervene earlier when interventions are more likely to be effective.”

Right now, she’s developing her research and teaching portfolios and making plans for grant applications. She’s also going to be joining Charlotte Waddell and Nicole Catherine on SFU’s developmental trajectories research challenge team, for the Faculty of Health Sciences.

“I think we share the same goals,” she says. “Our focus is on improving well-being for all children and doing it through policy.”