Justin Veale tells it like it is. If you listen to the 11-year-old, he will give you tremendous insight into the frustration and heartache experienced by a child born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
Candidly and touchingly, he explains why he is different from his peers in some ways. In a speech the now 11-year-old Milton resident gave to his Grade 4 classmates, his words had an impact on many of the kids who had bullied and ostracized him. It’s a story he’s had to tell over and over again: to the new teacher at the start of every school year, to his scout leader and his hockey coach.
“My brain does not always function as everyone else’s,” said Justin. “I’m wired a little differently and I have to find my own way of learning.”
FASD kids can be easy to manipulate. Sometimes they have difficulty processing the fast-paced world around them. Often they need timeouts, explained Justin.
“Sometimes it’s harder for me to make friends than most kids. It doesn’t feel all that great.”
What Justin doesn’t say is that he has a very high IQ and advanced verbal skills. Those attributes and his determination that more people understand his world, have given him several opportunities to speak out and he will do so again – to his largest audience so far — Sept. 9 on International FASD Awareness Day, hosted by the Halton FASD at the Art Gallery of Burlington.
FASD is known as the most preventable developmental disability among Canadians today, affecting one per cent of the population. Its cause is not a mystery – it’s the direct result of a pregnant woman consuming alcohol. There is no safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy say experts.
To look at Justin, or his biological brother Dallas, 10, you wouldn’t immediately recognize them as suffering from FASD. Their daily struggles to process information, to make friends, to fit into a world that is not always accepting of ‘different’, wouldn’t be apparent.
“It’s been a really big learning curve for everybody,” said Justin and Dallas’ adoptive mom Tracy. “We thought we knew what FASD was based on a couple of books. We knew we might not be adopting kids that would be straight A, honour students. We knew they might have some troubles in school, but I don’t think we really understood the real extent of what they would be dealing with.”
The Veales adopted Justin and Dallas when the boys were three and two, respectively.
It’s only been within the past couple of years that the boys have begun to understand what their parents suspected shortly after the boys came into their home.
“As early as kindergarten, the teacher was calling us with different behavioural issues, or they were not learning the alphabet, or they were having difficulty writing or spelling their names. We saw things probably even earlier than that,” said Tracy.