The one day conference at the Victoria Inn aims to end the shame, blame and stigma around Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
Faith, Ability, Strength and Determination.
Those words were emblazoned on the podium inside the Embassy Ballroom of the Victoria Inn Hotel and Convention Centre as the NorWest Community Health Centres held a one-day conference entitled The Human Experience: Voice of FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder).
Maureen Parkes, NorWest Community Health Centre FASD Coordinator, recalls the inaugural event being held on the waterfront and only involving a handful of people in attendance.
“Every year [the event] has evolved include [new people and those who keep coming back to Thunder Bay],” Parkes added. “We have gotten to a point where we know the importance of listening to people who have that lived experience, and that first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to live with FASD. There’s also no doubt [that] we have a lot of people in our community who have FASD and [those] who may have [it] and don’t know it.
Researcher estimate that at least 4% of individuals in Canada have FASD, which translate to more than 1.5 million people.
NorWest CHC states in a release that FASD has a significant impact in more people in Canada than Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy and Down Syndrome combined.
The keynote speaker of the conference was Miles Himmelreich, who himself has FASD.
He was adopted at the age of three, and knew he had FASD but didn’t understand what it meant until he entered his twenties.
“I started attending conferences, [and] that’s where I [was able to] learn, understand, make sense and became accepting of myself because I could look at what was seen as ‘bad behaviours’ and [say] ‘Oh, so this is part of my FASD’. For me, it [wasn’t] bad behaviour,” Himmelreich noted.
Himmelreich said that those with FASD are not victims that suffer and there needs to be less shame, blame and stigma associated with FASD.
“My mom was a young teenager who like myself when I was a teenager, wanted to fit in [and be] accepted,” he said. “She became pregnant, was unsupported [and] had these relationships that were filled with abuse, neglect, and substance use. My mom loved me, and at the end of the day, she did everything that she could to support me. There’s no use getting stuck on the shame and blame because it doesn’t take us anywhere. We want to move forward, and support everybody as a whole because my mom deserves to be supported. As an individual living with FASD, I’m not a victim that suffers.”