Foster care conference learns about life from an FASD perspective

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder has impacted Myles Himmelreich’s life, but the remarkable young man has turned his affliction around, creating a globe trotting career as a much sought after speaker and educator. Here he demonstrates what living with FASD is like with the aid of a willing volunteer. photo by Michael Erskine

LITTLE CURRENT—Nobody gets up in the morning and decides to drink alcohol to condemn their unborn child with the challenges of living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). For Myles Himmelreich, of Calgary, that perspective has helped him to come to terms with the mother who gave him up for adoption.

Meeting Mr. Himmelreich before his keynote presentation at the Kina Gbezhgomi Child and Family Services Foster Parent Conference, he presents as an animated and engaging young man who really ‘knows his stuff.’

As the caregivers and professionals at the conference soon learn, that presentation is the result of an innovative and clever set of coping strategies that have helped him overcome a series of daunting challenges, any one of which could condemn a less determined individual to a life on society’s fringes.

Mr. Himmelreich delivered an insight into his experiences, including both challenges and successes that he has faced on his life’s journey with FASD, from the unique perspective of someone who has FASD. He has spoken to national and international audiences, motivating and captivating them with his personal journey.

From the moment he began speaking, the veteran FASD presenter had the audience deeply enthralled. For those used to dealing with children with FASD, typically a series of “I don’t knows” alternated with shrugs, Mr. Himmelreich’s entire presentation shone brightly as a beacon of hope.

Through the senses of the presenter the audience joined in Mr. Himmelreich’s experiences and watched life unfold from his perspective.

The sense of barely bridled energy evident in his demeanor is just that, barely bridled. “I have bubbles flowing through my body,” he explained. The sensory input that assaults every waking moment of his daily life. On his finger is a multi-part ring, the centre of which spins around freely. As he speaks, unnoticed by his listeners until pointed out, he twirls the ring around, an activity that drowns out the distraction of the bubbles, allowing him to focus his attention on what he is doing.

One of the participants at the conference volunteers to learn what his learning experience in school was like. First, the volunteer dons a wide set of gloves, then is handed a rubber pencil that flops about in his hand. Then the volunteer dons a red visor whose brim is festooned with bright dancing lights. Ready for action, the volunteer is given his instructions. “Write your first name and keep writing until I tell you to stop,” said Mr. Himmelreich. Meanwhile, the rest of the room is instructed to pick up the noisemakers on their tables and to blow bubbles with the supplied soap and water.

“Now write your first and last name and continue until I tell you to stop,” instructs Mr. Himmelreich. The volunteer is dutifully attempting to follow his instructions.

There were three sets of instructions given to the volunteer during the demonstration. The third, “write down two plus two and solve the equation,” delivered in a calm voice in the midst of the bubbles, bells and continued patter of the presenter was missed, not only by the volunteer, but the vast bulk of the audience as well, including this writer. It was an enlightening experience for everyone.

He made a brief attempt to stand still for a moment in front of the audience. Despite his clear efforts, there was always some part of him on the move through those few moments.

Mr. Himmelreich was adopted by a loving family when he was two-years-old, after transiting seven foster homes, and was integrated into their lives—because of his hearing issues, they changed his name to Myles (his original choices, influenced by the Saturday morning cartoons, were He-man and Smiles). These most remarkable people supported and tried to help him throughout his life, but by the time Mr. Himmelreich was a teenager, he had given up on fitting into the mainstream world.

His most memorable time as a child was the day he was sent home from school and did not received the lecture that by this time had simply become “blah, blah, blah,” a meaningless stream of words that he could not relate too.

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