A new recreation program in Waterloo Region is changing the way police officers look at boys with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, a developmental disability caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol.

Boys Unplugged was launched on Saturday at the Children's Safety Village in Cambridge. For the first event, organizers paired ten youth with members of the Waterloo Regional Police and had them build race cars out of cardboard.

"I actually liked everything. Like the scavenger hunt and it's just great." said Matthew Colombo, 11, who spent the morning working with Special Constable John Heaton.

His mother, Lisa Colombo, organized Saturday's event. She said she has tried to get Matthew involved in community recreation programs, but hasn't been able to find an activity that is suited to her son's special needs. 

waterloo police FASD boys unplugged

Matthew Colombo builds a cardboard race car at the launch of Boys Unplugged. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

Like other children with FASD, Matthew has trouble communicating and following instructions. At Boys Unplugged, police officers, special constables and community volunteers are at hand to help him succeed.

The program follows a model established by Reach For It, another recreation program for children with FASD that was started by Lisa Colombo in 2013. 

Cst. Bob Kennedy, who was at the event on Saturday, has been a Reach For It volunteer since its beginnings. He said working with these children has changed his opinion of people who have FASD.

"[I have] a better understanding of why they do what they do," he said, adding that, in the past, he might have assumed an individual with FASD was simply not paying attention to him or just being rude. 

"If I'm at work and dealing with someone that has FASD, I can understand better how to deal with them. I'll deal with them in a different way than I would someone else."

Boys Unplugged and Reach For It, a program for girls and boys, are two of the few services available to people in Waterloo Region who have FASD. Starting Sept. 22, 2014, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo will take a closer look at how families are struggling to cope with the disorder and what Ontario is being asked to do about it.