Owerko Centre Neurodevelopmental Clinical Research Rounds

The Owerko Centre is pleased to present a monthly series of rounds focusing on the neurodevelopmental research and clinical practice. Please click on the menus below to find recorded versions of past rounds.


Explore upcoming events and view recordings that cover a wide range of topics at previous gatherings. 

Talk title: Understanding & exploring periods of sexual transition in women with intellectual and developmental disabilities through the lens of physical literacy

Speaker: Dr. Laura St. John, Azrieli Accelerator Assistant Professor, Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary

Speaker: Dr. Tamara Bodnar, PhD, Azrieli Accelerator Assistant Professor, Faculty of Science, University of Calgary

Speaker: Dr. Susan Graham, PhD, RPsych, Professor, Psychology, Faculty of Arts; Director, Owerko Centre and Scientific Director, Azrieli Accelerator, University of Calgary

Speaker: Dr. Kara Murias, MD, PhD, FRCPC, Pediatric Neurologist, Alberta Children’s Hospital; Assistant Professor, Departments of Pediatrics, Clinical Neurosciences, and Psychiatry, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary 

Evidence for treatments in neurodevelopmental conditions continues to be limited. Without ongoing clinical trials, evidence for effective treatments continue to limit our ability to provide evidence-based suggestions for families. This interactive session will discuss evidence gaps and ways to support research that can address these gaps. 

Post-Secondary Student Mental Health and Wellbeing: Current State, Emerging Trends, and Supportive Approaches

Speaker: Dr. Andrew Szeto, PhD, Professor, Psychology, Faculty of Arts; Director, Mental Health Strategy, Office of the Provost, University of Calgary; 

As emerging adults, post-secondary students are at an important stage of their development that includes many firsts, as well as navigating academic, social, and financial complexities. All these factors can both positively and negatively impact students’ wellbeing and success. This talk will examine the current state of post-secondary student mental health and wellbeing along with specific approaches, trends, resources, and initiatives to better support students. Finally, the talk will end with an examination and discussion of practical ways we can all support student wellbeing on post-secondary campuses.

Slide Deck and Resources available here

Review of the evidence base for interventions for ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder)

Speaker: Dr. John D. McLennan, MD, MPH, PhD, FRCPC, Clinician Investigator & Clinical Associate Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Community Health Sciences, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary

This presentation will entail a critical review of the evidence base for interventions to address Avoidant/ Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). This will include a review of the limited evidence for psychopharmacological treatment and the more substantial evidence for behaviour strategies.

Speaker: Dr. Iliana Ortega, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor, Psychiatry, CSM, University of Calgary

Talk Objectives:
1. Examine the differences in clinical presentation of OCD and ASD
in children
and adolescents and discuss how to differentiate them and when to make a
dual diagnosis
2. Summarize the treatment for children and youth with OCD and coexisting
ASD and the implications for treatment.
3. Clinical pearls and case discussion
4. Describe local services offered for the treatment of pediatric OCD and ASD

This presentation centres on the common nutrition and mental health needs of children and adolescents in bigger bodies.


  • Clinical concerns of patients, including underfueling, medication complexities, weight stigma and discrimination, disordered eating behaviours, and common mental health challenges that emerge for youth in bigger bodies will be described
  • Practical recommendations and evidence-based care guidelines to support clinical conversations and promote healthy living behaviours for youth in bigger bodies and their families will be shared.


  1. Leslie Steeves, Dietitian, Alberta Children's Hospital
  2. Dr. Chelsea Durber, PhD, RPsych, Pediatric Clinical Psychologist, Pediatric Centre for Wellness and Health, ACH; Research Associate, Pediatrics, University of Calgary

About our Speakers:

Over the past 8 years, Leslie has worked in Calgary and for the Siksika Nation providing pediatric & adult nutrition care and counseling through her experiences in private practice, sports nutrition, feeding therapy, and with Siksika Health Services.  Leslie’s passion is working with families to build a healthy relationship with food while supporting chronic disease management. 

Chelsea is engaged in conducting research and has a particular interest in studying children’s emotion regulation skills, parenting stress, and emotion socialization. 

Talk Title: Thinking dimensionally raises doubts about the usefulness of the ‘dual diagnosis’ construct in developmental disabilities and mental health

Speaker: Dr. John D. McLennan, MD, MPH, PhD, Clinical Associate Professor, University of Calgary. 

Dr. McLennan reviews dimension and categorical thinking about mental health and developmental difficulties and considers the implications for comorbidities. He also discusses the problems associated with categorical comorbidity formulations.

Dr. McLennan has had the opportunity to provide psychiatric care for a variety of ages, from preschoolers to adults.  Currently he provides psychiatric consultation within the Calgary Eating Disorder Program focused on children with Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorders.

Talk title: Familial aggregation of psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders and the risk of self-harm among subjects with autism spectrum disorders

Speaker: Dr. Elina Jokiranta Olkoniemi , PhD, Clinical Psychologist, Post Doctoral Researcher, University of Oulu, Finland

Dr. Jokiranta Olkoniemi described the recent findings related to the aggregation of psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders among subjects with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their family members. She also discussed how comorbid disorders among subjects with ASD modify the risk of self-harm.

Recruiting research participants is a well-recognized challenge in pediatric and clinical studies. The Owerko Centre Neurodevelopmental Research Recruitment database, other recruitment databases, and other strategies to improve research recruitment for investigators and families were discussed.


Erin Gionet, NDD Research Database Coordinator, Owerko Centre
Hayley Huston, Psychology Student in Dr. Murias’ lab, University of Calgary
Rachel Martens, Knowledge Broker, Azrieli Accelerator, University of Calgary
Dr. Kara Murias, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Paediatrics, Psychiatry, and Clinical Neurosciences, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary
Nicole Romanow, Manager, Child Health Research, Alberta Children’s Hospital

Predicting Cerebral Palsy: Promise and Pitfalls

Speaker: Dr. Mary Dunbar, MD, Paediatric Neurologist, Alberta Children’s Hospital,; Assistant Professor, University of Calgary

1. Review the diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy
2. Discuss risk factors for Cerebral Palsy
3. Discuss the ability to predict which babies will be affected with CP and the pitfalls for
CP prediction

Subject: Neurodevelopmental genetic conditions: care and investigation of children

Talk title: Looking at the forest and the trees: Canadian position statement for genetic testing in developmental disorders and local research initiatives

1. Review the evolution of clinical research addressing diagnostic yield and clinical utility of
genetic testing in neurodevelopmental disorders
2. Review highlights from the new Canadian College of Medical Geneticists position statement
on genetic and metabolic investigations for neurodevelopmental disorders
3. Consider implications of translating the research
based recommendations to clinical practice
4. Introduce ASPEN project (Improved Access and Streamlined Phenotyping for gEnetic Neurodevelopmental disorders)


Dr. Ping Yee Billie Au, MD, PhD, FRCPC, Clinical Assistant Professor, Medical Genetics; Assistant Professor, Paediatrics, University of Calgary

Dr. Pamela Veale, MD, FRCPC, Professor, Paediatrics, University of Calgary

The use of transcranial magnetic stimulation for neuromodulation for developmental and neuropsychiatric conditions in children.

Presentation Objectives:

1. Review the current evidence for TMS interventions in pediatrics
2. Considerations for TMS protocol development in pediatrics 
3. Update ongoing and upcoming TMS projects in pediatrics at ACH 

Featured Speakers:

Dr. Kara Murias, MD, PhD, Paediatric Neurologist, Alberta Children's Hospital; Assistant Professor, Departments of Paediatrics and Clinical Neurosciences, University of Calgary

Bevin Wiley, 2nd year Graduate Student in Drs. Murias and Kirton’s labs

Spencer Epp, 2nd year Masters of Neuroscience Student in Dr. Gillian Miller’s Pediatric Anesthesia, Imaging, & Neurodevelopmental Science (PAINS) lab at ACH

Updates from the Facing Your Fears Program

Click here to watch part 2 of the presentation


Dr. Carly McMorris, R. Psych, PhD, Associate Professor, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary

Stephanie Howe, PhD Student, University of Calgary

Facing Your Fears (FYF) is a cognitive behaviour therapy approach adapted specifically for children and adolescents with autism who also experience anxiety.  

Presentation Objectives:

1. Describe what Facing Your Fears is, how we have adapted this approach for children and youth with ADHD as well as for virtual delivery during COVID, and present some preliminary findings

2. Describe the effectiveness of FYF in reducing youth’s anxiety, parent’s stress, and improving their overall quality of life

3. Discuss next steps/future directions and how to refer families to get involved

Speaker: Dr. W. Ben Gibbard, MD, MA, MSc, FRCPC, Founder Dev. Peds.; Developmental Pediatrician, Alberta Children's Hospital; Section Chief, Developmental Pediatrics; Associate Professor, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary


  1. Review diagnostic approaches used in developmental disorders
  2. Explore and discuss assumptions, utility and limitations of these approaches
  3. Consider how neuroethics might inform clinical service, research and policy for developmental disorders


Speaker: Dr. Robbin Gibb, PhD; Professor, Department of Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge.

Play is a powerful means to enhance brain structure and function, and support the formation of positive, nurturing relationships with caregivers. The Building Brains Together (BBT) program in Lethbridge has developed a curriculum of games for preschoolers based on evidence presented in the primary literature. This presentation will explore the research behind BBT and demonstrate how children who engage with this program show advances in cognitive

Speaker: Kate Godfrey, PhD Candidate, Department of Neuroscience, University of Calgary

Ms. Godfrey provided an overview of suicidality in autism spectrum disorder and important knowledge gaps regarding within-individual variation. Her talk highlighted a novel University of Calgary protocol aiming to characterize this variability, including underlying neural functioning.


Dr. Elizabeth Condliffe, MD, PhD, Alberta Children’s Hospital, University of Calgary
Christa Diot, MSc, P.Kin, Alberta Children’s Hospital

Robotic walking is generating a great deal of excitement for its potential use as a rehabilitation and assistive device for children with significant disabilities. This talk presented study results on outcomes such as sleep, mood and bowel function, and discuss the challenges of measuring some of the outcomes related to robotic walking meaningful to children and their families.


Dr. Sneha Chenji, PhD, post-doctoral fellow, University of Calgary
Dr. Kayla Stone, PhD, post-doctoral fellow, University of Calgary

Neuroimaging and neurostimulation can aid in the understanding and development of treatments for pediatric neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. This presentation focused on transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for pediatric mental health conditions and plans for the lab’s upcoming clinical trials using TMS for depression and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Talk title: Update on two different studies related to children
with ADHD during the COVID-19 pandemic

Speaker: Dr. Jean-François Lemay, MD, Developmental Pediatrician, Alberta Children’s Hospital

Dr. Lemay presented information from surveys assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education, lifestyle, and mental health of families and children with ADHD. He will also report on the Virtual Behavioural Support Intervention for Children with ADHD: The ADHD-VIBES experience. The aim of this project is to assess the feasibility of the ADHD-VIBES program for families in managing and improving behaviour and mental health symptoms in their children with ADHD.

Talk Title: Neural-Immune Crosstalk and Microbiotagut-Axis: What is their role in persistent tic disorders and related conditions? 

Speaker: Dr. Davide Martino, MD, PhD, Pediatric Neurologist, Alberta Children’s Hospital

This presentation provided a critical overview of the role of immune hyper-reactivity, neuro-inflammation and dysfunction in the microbiota-gut-brain axis in persistent tic disorders and related disorders (OCD, ADHD). Dr. Lemay described the background, rationale and objectives of cross-disorder research, currently ongoing in Calgary, and focusing on the nature and functional implications of gut dysbiosis in TS, OCD and ADHD.


Dr. Deinera Exner-Cortens, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Calgary
Dr. Elizabeth Baker, PhD, Postdoctoral Associate, University of Calgary

Suicide is a leading cause of death for youth in Canada, yet little is known about effective school-based prevention approaches. This presentation reviewed what is known about youth suicide prevention, with a focus on the role of school staff. An overview of new training programs to build school staff capacity to engage in prevention was also presented.


Dr. Kara Murias, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor, University of Calgary
Dr. Gabrielle Zimmermann, PhD, Program Coordinator, Alberta SPOR Support Unit

To improve our understanding of neurodevelopment and improve care for children and families, the right research needs to get into the hands of the right people. This presentation reviewed methods of Knowledge Translation (KT) including developing a plan, identifying the appropriate audience, implementing strategies, and measuring impact.

Speaker: Dr. Ashley Ware, Killam Postdoctoral Scholar, University of Calgary

Pediatric mild traumatic brain injury clinicians and researchers have experienced challenges in detecting and predicting mild TBI in children with persistent post-concussive symptoms (PCS). Part of their challenge is that the current approaches to biomarking and imaging at their disposal have proven inconsistent. This presentation reviewed some of the acknowledged methodological and research approaches that aim to address those challenges.

Speaker: Rachel Martens, Research Engagement Strategist, Family Engagement in Research Course, CanChild and Kids Brain Health Network

Patient-Oriented Research is still a relatively new practice in Canada as are the mechanisms that support successful relationships within these partnerships. Rachel examined how knowledge translation plays a role from the lens of stakeholders as they receive training through the Family Engagement in Research Course offered through CanChild and Kids Brain Health Network.

Speaker: Kate Godfrey, PhD Candidate, Neuroscience, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary

All people experience benefit when personal interests are supported and encouraged, and intense interests have additional benefits for autistic people. This talk provided an overview of intense interests, explore similarities and differences in things that interest autistic and typically developing preschool children, and discussed behavioural traits which relate to interest intensity in early childhood.

Speaker: Ashleigh Yule, Doctoral candidate, School and Applied Child Psychology, University of Calgary

Ashleigh shared current findings and perspectives on gender diversity for individuals on the autism spectrum and present evidence-informed practices for supporting gender diverse autistic children, teens, and adults. Participants investigated their own understandings of gender and neurodiversity while learning practical strategies to provide sensitive care for trans autistic family members, clients, and community members.

Speaker: Dr. Adam McCrimmon, Associate Professor, Werklund School of Education,
University of Calgary

Our understanding of autism has evolved over the years, with members of the autism community influencing that evolution. Self-identity and the impact of language pertaining to autism has been a focus of recent work contributed and led by those on the autism spectrum. This talk provided an overview of this work, and implications for research and clinical practice. 


Dr. Svenja Espenhahn, Post-Doctoral Associate, Neuroscience, Cumming School of Medicine
Ishita Moghe, Master’s student, Neuroscience, Cumming School of Medicine

Sensory and sensorimotor difficulties in children on the autism spectrum have an impact on quality of life and development. This engaging presentation characterized sensory and sensorimotor responses in children with autism and how these relate to “realworld” behaviors.

Title: Motor Impairments in Children with Neurodevelopmental
Disorders: Who has them? What causes them? What can be done?

Speaker: Dr. Deborah Dewey, Professor, Paediatrics and Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary

Motor impairments are common among children with neurodevelopmental disorders. Dr. Deborah Dewey discussed motor difficulties among children with neurodevelopmental disorders, the research examining the genetic and neural bases of motor impairment, and new interventions with potential to improve outcomes in these children. 

Talk Title: “Basic income or basic services? Addressing the systemic disparity of access to services and supports for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities”

Speaker: Dr. Jennifer Zwicker, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary; Director of Health Policy, School of Public Policy

This presentation discussed early findings and future directions from Project ACCESS: Assessing the Continuum of Care and Eligibility for Services and Supports for Children with Neurodevelopmental Disabilities and their Families.  This project focused on the use of linked administrative data to measure and understand disparities in access to existing health, education and social services for youth with NDD and their families, and the impact of these disparities on outcomes of youth with NDD across the life course.


Tasmia Hai, PhD candidate, University of Alberta
Cynthia Kahl, MD/PhD candidate, University of Calgary

Non-invasive brain stimulation (NiBS) technology has the potential to be a treatment option for children with ADHD. In order to implement such interventions, we need a theory-driven, empirical approach is needed to establish target priorities. This presentation will provide the findings of a multimodal study in children with ADHD (compared to typically developing controls).


Dr. Deborah Dewey, PhD, RPsych, Paediatrics, University of Calgary
Dr. Gillian England-Mason, Post-doctoral Fellow, University of Calgary
Dr. Melody Grohs, Post-doctoral Fellow, University of Calgary

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are man-made plastics that disrupt the activity of hormones and the body’s normal functions. Two main types are bisphenols (BPA, BPS). These are found in consumer goods, such as food and beverage containers, textile and building materials, personal-care products (soaps, deodorant), and children’s toys. Research has suggested that prenatal and early childhood exposure may affect children’s neurodevelopment.