Kate Fitzgerald, M.D.
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AIM Sullivan Family Rising Star Award – Kate Fitzgerald, M.D.

Anxiety disorders start early in life, affecting one in five children, and often set the stage for later depression, substance abuse, and even suicide. Dr. Kate D. Fitzgerald’s AIM Sullivan Family Rising Star Award is funding research to prevent childhood anxiety from worsening by increasing brain capacity for controlling fear. Brain training will be delivered to groups of 5 to 6 clinically anxious preschoolers during “Kidpower” camps, beginning June 2017. These trainings will teach children to regulate their behavior in response to simple games (e.g., Red Light, Green Light; Simon Says) and will target deficits in the brain believed to underlie anxiety. Dr. Fitzgerald cites her collaboration with neuroscience, perinatal psychiatry and developmental psychology colleagues as the keys to building the brain-targeted “Kidpower” intervention. Beginning with the AIM Rising Star Award, the Kidpower team will develop a series of flexible brain trainings that can be customized to the brain characteristics of individual children to maximize the effect of treatment.

Success stories from “Kidpower”:
“Five-year-old Angelina was scared about making mistakes at home and in kindergarten. Parents were worried about her inability to tolerate frustration. Through the Kidpower camp, she was able to build better self-regulatory skills to overcome her fear of making mistakes through playing and practicing “brain games” with her peers. Parents were very thankful that she was able to better regulate her frustration. They also learned new skills on parenting by observing camp counselors’ interaction with Angelina.”

“Aidan started kindergarten in September, but his perfectionism was getting in the way.  Every day at school he would cry, worried that his schoolwork wasn’t ‘good enough’. His teacher was calling home daily.  After 2 weeks of Kidpower, the calls from school stopped.  During Kidpower, Aidan learned games to build self-regulatory skills and, through these games, he learned to learn from his mistakes. ”

I think one of my most memorable memories during the camp was a kid with selective mutism, who wouldn’t talk to any of us during the first few days. She started to play games with other kids and even played taboo in a large group. Finally, on the last day, she managed to speak one on one with the camp staff and even said goodbye to several of us!”

Neurally Targeted Interventions to Reduce Early Childhood Anxiety