By Lara Shannon, Wood’s Homes Community Engagement Coordinator
For most of us, FASD stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. To motivational speaker, Myles “Smyles” Himmelreich it signifies Faith, Ability, Strength and Determination.
Myles grew up in a foster home where his parents adopted seven of the children that they fostered. He and three of the other kids that were adopted were diagnosed with FASD. On August 18, Myles, who is now 39, came to Wood’s Homes to do a presentation on FASD. Myles draws from his own personal experience of living with FASD to inspire audiences.
I certainly felt inspired by this talk and I learned a lot more about this diagnosis including the following:
Myles and others with FASD live with sensory overload. He is constantly bombarded with smells, sounds, sights and sensations (like the way his shirt feels against his skin). These stimuli make it extremely difficult to focus and impossible to stay still. He struggled with sensory overload in school, in job interviews and it also affected his employment. He has discovered that using a “fidget tool” (in his case a ring with an attachment he can spin) helps a lot.
Not just the brain is affected! Myles lives with many symptoms due to FASD. He has arthritis in his hips, knees and ankles, bone spurs in his elbows, scoliosis and hip dysplasia. He is also hearing impaired and these are just a few of the additional challenges he lives with. Most of these conditions Myles had as a child, but were not discovered until recently. He remembers being in so much pain riding his bike as a kid, however, it didn’t occur to his parents or doctors to check to see if the 10-year-old had arthritis.
Myles and several of his colleagues recently conducted a survey of close to 1000 people across the world living with FASD. They found that this population was much more likely to suffer with a host of physical problems. Some of these were up to 100 times more likely in a person with FASD. Myles believes it’s important for people to understand that FASD is a full body diagnosis, not just a brain injury.
Myles explained what it was like to grow up feeling like he was constantly disappointing everyone around him. He pointed out that teachers, parents and others around him were often impatient or angry with his behaviour. Even though they were only experiencing it during their short times of interaction with him, he had to experience the impatience and anger all day long. Myles shared how he would go home and sit in his closet reliving the day, wishing he could change. He asks the question now – why didn’t people stop and ask “why?” instead of judging and perceiving him as a bad kid.
As a teenager he discovered alcohol and drugs, and how both helped him feel like a normal person. Suddenly the volume on the sensory overload was turned down. He could relax and be still. This led to a whole new set of challenges which left him living on the street. After his own experiences with drugs and alcohol, Myles hopes people who are caring for those suffering with FASD ask the question, “Why is this kid using alcohol and drugs?”
It is difficult for those with FASD to adjust to unexpected events. Myles explains how routine is so helpful and important for him to function in life. Individuals living and working with those who have FASD should understand that an interruption to routine can throw everything off. He gave an example of how a plane that he often took to another city was delayed once and how it was so hard to adjust to the new circumstances. Missing his flight and then trying to book a new flight to make it to his presentation was completely overwhelming.
His creative use of analogy and metaphor made it so easy for the audience to understand the information and messages he was sharing. I truly believe as a speaker and mentor he will continue to spread hope and inspiration to thousands of people living with FASD (and other disabilities), as well as the people who care and provide support for them!
The most striking thing for me was realizing that even with FASD Myles is an amazing speaker full of vitality and a happy person. He was excited to announce his recent engagement to his fiancé and that they are expecting their first child.
Join us on Saturday, Sept. 9 from 8-10:45 am for the FASD Day Pancake Breakfast! Details here.