CBC: Better understanding of fetal alcohol disorders needed, says public speaker

Myles Himmelreich, left, with his wife Amy and daughter Alyxandra. (Submitted by Myles Himmelreich)

A better understanding of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder will help not only those affected by it but also the communities struggling with it more widely, says Myles Himmelreich, who has FASD.

Himmelreich a public speaker who has been to communities disproportionately affected by FASD, including in Labrador, told CBC Radio’s On The Go that misconceptions about the disorder can hurt the self-worth of people living with it, leading to wider problems in a community.

“You don’t feel like you have that sense of purpose because you’re being told that you’re not like everybody else, and you can’t do things like everybody else,” said Himmelreich, who lives in Surrey, B.C.

When Himmelreich was adopted at age three, his parents were told he had fetal alcohol effects. At the time, medical professionals distinguished between fetal alcohol effects and fetal alcohol syndrome by the presence or lack of facial features associated with alcohol intake in pregnancy.

Himmelreich consults on FASD, and gives motivational speeches — working to be an advocate for people living with the condition, and their family and friends. (Submitted by Myles Himmelreich)

However, this distinction led many to miss the fact that even those affected by alcohol consumption in pregnancy who did not have the facial features associated with fetal alcohol syndrome still struggled and needed supports, Himmelreich said.

“They now call it ‘fetal alcohol spectrum disorder’ because they understand everybody’s affected differently,” he said.

Struggles in school and with friends

For Himmelreich, challenges showed up academically and socially. At school, he had difficulty completing his work.

“Being able to process the information in the same amount of time as everybody else was very difficult for me,” he said. “And then being able to retain the information and deliver it later on was also difficult for me.”

His difficulties were often mistaken as laziness or an unwillingness to listen or work, and Himmelreich said he took on those labels he heard from others and applied them to himself.

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