Dino Island


Dino Island training program for attention and executive function

Our highest priority is to improve the well-being and success of children with special needs and their families. We proceed with care and compassion and strive to create a positive impact for all of those that are impacted by neurodevelopmental concerns or are in their circle of care.

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.’ 

Reference Link*



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 Function

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 ]



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.).

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)