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OPSEU Convention 2019: 13-year-old wows crowd with inspiring speech on importance of autism services

Child of OPSEU member at the podium during Convention 2019.

Each year at Convention, OPSEU delegates, alternates and observers take part in our union’s rich culture of democracy; debating and voting on important union policy. Each year, OPSEU members eagerly anticipate presentations by leaders from our communities, union, our province and country and other renowned activists from around the world.

But this year, it came as a welcome surprise to many that one of the most captivating speeches was made during the annual Children’s Parade. 

On Saturday morning, attendees were wowed by an inspiring speech by 13-year-old Joshua Goldthorpe when he spoke of his experience on the autism spectrum and his concern about the burden placed on families to pay for critical autism services.

The crowd was blown away by his eloquence and the clarity of his message: that we must fight for autism services; that we must vote for governments that support public services; and that we must build a better vision of Canada, with and for our youth.

Here is the full transcript of Joshua’s powerful speech: 

Hi my name is Joshua Goldthorpe and I am an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) teenager. I am here to talk to you about the struggles of living with a diagnosis. I live in Windsor and I attend Talbot Trail Public School in South Windsor. 

I was diagnosed as Autism Spectrum when I was a baby at age two. My parents were told that it would be an uphill battle to speak. There were so many therapies that I tried and they went all over Canada and the USA to try therapies that would make me think, speak and move better. This has equated into an overall expenditure well over one-hundred thousand dollars to get me the help to support me. And I must say a big thank you to OPSEU for fighting for benefits that helped in subsidizing the costs.

I have been affiliated with: Early Years Centre, Children’s First, Summit Centre, and the John McGivney Centre for various programs throughout my primary life; not to mention Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Educational Assistant supports, and special education programming, along with multiple doctors. 

I stand here today being in a regular integrated classroom and achieving grades in the 80s and 90s. I am here to tell you that I matter and all ASD kids matter. We want to be included in society and we need supports to be included in society. Many experts believe that early intervention for success is the key, and my parents believe that I am living proof of their theory.

My parents have been worrying what reform in the provincial budget will do to the spectrum families in the future – especially the families that do not have access to group employee benefits. Plus, with cutbacks on services, how are they going to get the best help when it is most effective at an early age?  

Many ASD kids that I know are on some form of medication to help them with their focus and concentration. These medications are costly and the effects on families are devastating. So how can Pharmacare help us in the future?

If government-funded medication is available and a good early intervention program is available and government supports throughout primary, junior, intermediate, and post-secondary education, I can be successful like any other regular. ASD is work for me, my family and the government. I am doing my best to be a success and who knows the opportunity for curing ASD, cancer and even the common cold may reside with one of our own.   

I am an expensive investment and I promise I am worth it. If you do the math: the cost of university, cost of medication and cost of supports while working a precarious job or me not even being accepted into the workforce because the perception of autism leaves me unemployable. It means bankruptcy to me and bankruptcy as a society. I will be a man living with ASD and the doors of opportunity will be closed before I am even 30.  

What do I need from all our activist here today?  I need three things: 

  1. I need you to fight to make sure ASD families and their support workers are not taken away from us, and to fight for services for our ASD families.
  2. I cannot vote, but you can. Federally vote where we can fight back from the losses so many ASD families will suffer under provincial cutbacks.  Federally look to have Pharmacare be available to all in Canada. We all deserve a chance.
  3. I need you to help our youth build a better vision of Canada.  One that is inclusive, happy and most of all healthy.

Thank you

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