A screenshot of Alex and Clara O’Keeffe from the July 18 Kent City Council meeting. COURTESY IMAGE, City of Kent/YouTube

A screenshot of Alex and Clara O’Keeffe from the July 18 Kent City Council meeting. COURTESY IMAGE, City of Kent/YouTube

10-year-old boy draws standing ovation at Kent City Council meeting

Alex O’Keeffe delivers inspirational message about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Despite his young age of 10, Alex O’Keeffe sure knows how to deliver an inspiration speech.

After Alex spoke at the July 18 Kent City Council meeting about the importance to make people aware of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), which he suffers from, the council and audience gave Alex a standing ovation.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders is a group of conditions that can occur in a person who was exposed to alcohol before birth causing lifelong complications such as physical, behavioral and learning disabilities, according to a proclamation read July 18 by Mayor Dana Ralph. An estimated 70,000 people have FASD in Washington state and an estimated 870 babies are born each year with it in the state.

The proclamation states that the city of Kent supports alcohol free pregnancies, prevention efforts and resources dedicated to early diagnosis as well as help to those living with FASD, such as Alex. Staying away from using alcohol when pregnant would stop the disorder.

But let Alex tell the story.

“My name is Alex O’Keeffe and with me is my sister Clara,” Alex said as he began his speech, barely peering over the top of the council podium. “We have FASD. One in 20 kids have FASD and the numbers are growing. Many grow up and get involved with alcohol, drugs, live on the streets and go to prison.

“Schools, doctors and therapists have failed them by not understanding about FASD and how we treat the symptoms from this brain injury. We need them to understand.”

Alex said he and his sister were diagnosed with the disorder at age 2, as their biological mother used alcohol and drugs during her pregnancy.

“We cried a lot and had trouble sleeping,” Alex said. “Because of this, we’ve had tons of therapy since age 1.”

Alex said he had an older sister, Starla, who died from the disorder two years ago.

“If you see a bright star in the night, that would be her,” he said.

Alex and Clara were adopted last year by their mother’s aunt, who had custody of them since they were just 1.

“We now call her mom,” he said about their adoption.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person with FASD might have a wide range of disorders, including low body weight, poor coordination, hyperactive behavior, difficulty with attention, poor memory, difficulty in school (especially with math), learning disabilities, vision or hearing problems, problems with the heart, kidneys, or bones, shorter-than-average height and small head size.

“It’s hard for me and my twin but our family has learned about FASD and how to help us,” Alex said. “We are smart but struggle with math, get easily distracted and super impulsive and melt down easily. We have dysgraphia, so writing is hard.”

Dysgraphia might include problems with letter formation/legibility, letter spacing, spelling, fine motor coordination, rate of writing, grammar and composition, according to the National Library of Medicine.

“It’s hard to make friends which actually makes me cry at night, just like last night,” Alex said.

Despite the challenges, Alex tries to remain positive.

“We hope to go to college,” he said. “We did not get the right help in school so mom is home schooling us. That’s also one of things we want to change, KSD (Kent School District) needs to have awareness of disabilities. We work at our own pace, take breaks when we need to.

“We focus on our strengths. We are very musical, I take ukulele lessons and play piano, she (Clara) plays violin. We both dance and take swimming lessons. I am very good at art and Lego building and I’m in Boy Scouts.”

According to the CDC, there is no cure for FASDs, but research shows that early intervention treatment services can improve a child’s development. Early intervention services help children from birth to 3 years of age learn important skills. Services include therapy to help the child talk, walk and interact with others.

The O’Keeffe family has helped a lot.

“We have a stable home with tons of love and support,” Alex said. “They tell us about FASD. Our goal is to grow up and do great things despite our brain damage.”

Alex then delivered a closing line that brought the council, mayor and audience to their feet.

“I pray to God as I walk this earth every night that I hope this proclamation will recognize FASD and the impact it has on everyone,” he said.

Ralph paused for a moment before she continued the council meeting.

“It’s hard to keep dry eyes after that,” Ralph said as she fought back tears. “If each one of us can take that message and spread it to another person, we can stop what is a very preventable disorder and we can give our kids hope and just the understanding of what they are going through.”

Ralph said that she received a handwritten letter from Alex earlier this year. He wrote that he wanted to meet with her to talk about FASD. She invited him to her office and they talked for about an hour.

“He wanted to inform me and the community what FASD is, why it’s preventable and what people are dealing with,” Ralph said. “It’s one of the most meaningful things I’ve been a part of.”

That’s why Ralph decided to invite Alex and his sister to the council meeting for the proclamation.

“Our mission is to bring awareness to this and advocate for those who have FASD,” Alex said.


For more information, go to Virginia-based FASD United at fasdunited.org.

To see Alex’s speech on YouTube, click on this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJtnN9GCLYY

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Alex and Clara O’Keeffe. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

Alex and Clara O’Keeffe. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

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