Presenter and motivational speaker Myles Himmelreich visited Smithers last week, to share the story of his life and his experiences living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
He hopes that, raising awareness about the disorder will bring positive changes to those afflicted.
During his presentations, Himmelreich uses props to simulate what having FASD is like.
“I use bubbles and noisemakers, and I get someone to write something on the board, then I change the instructions.”
The technique illustrates what those suffering from FASD have to deal with on a daily basis.
“Sometimes there is too much information for people with FASD to process. You have all these smells, the feeling of the clothes on your body, the lights in the room. All of these things make it very difficult to concentrate.
“You’re learning all these things, but they aren’t fitting into different categories or files, so you can’t retrieve it easily.”
The sensory overload can make it difficult for younger kids with FASD to concentrate in class.
“I call it bubble trouble. It’s like there are all these bubbles moving around in your body. The teacher sees you squirming around and thinks you aren’t concentrating.”
Himmelreich doesn’t blame the teachers, but thinks that the school system could do a better job of helping kids suffering from FASD.
“Teachers may have 35 kids in their classrooms, and they simply don’t have time to give to that one student who needs the extra attention. Kids with FASD have had success in special needs programs and I think we need more of that.”
Difficulties in class can have long-term consequences.
“Students then fall behind, or don’t fit in. They then graduate, or leave school early, unprepared for life as an adult. We are sending kids with FASD out into the world at 17 years old, but they are functioning at an 11- or 12-year-old level.”
People with FASD are then more likely commit crimes and suffer from drug addiction.
Later this year, Himmelreich will travel to Norway to speak at a doctor’s conference on the physical affects of FASD.
“A lot of the focus has been on the mental aspects of FASD, but it also affects your bones, your muscles and your tissues.”
“So when a kid is too tired to walk, it’s because their bones haven’t developed the same. We need to understand it and when we don’t fully understand the disease everyone assumes the problem is behavioural.
“FASD is a full body diagnosis. It affects the whole body and so, understanding that part of it is important.”
Himmelreich currently resides in Calgary, Alberta. During his week in the northwest, he travelled to schools and community centres, from Houston to Hazelton
Himmelreich started public speaking when a friend asked him to address a local conference on FASD in his hometown of Calgary.
“Public speaking came really easy to me. I have been doing it for a few years now and I guess word has spread.”