Asperger's sufferer wows judges in speech competition

The 20-year-old's speech was influenced by the oratory powers of Winston Churchill. Photo / Getty Images
The 20-year-old's speech was influenced by the oratory powers of Winston Churchill. Photo / Getty Images

A young Asperger's sufferer has overcome his communication challenges to wow public speaking judges with an inspirational speech influenced by the oratory powers of Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela.

Ara Workskills student Sam Goddard is afflicted by Asperger's syndrome, a condition that affects his ability to communicate with others.

But the 20-year-old didn't let his disorder affect him when he took part in the Rotary Best Speaker Awards, a speech competition for young people.

Goddard, who has a love of history and singer Johnny Cash, was awarded second prize for his speech on the topic, Looking towards my future.

He took inspiration from Churchill and Mandela who both overcame personal and political challenges to become inspiring leaders during difficult times.

People with Asperger's syndrome are often highly intelligent, but have difficulty picking up social cues and emotions.

Their behaviour can appear abrupt and a little eccentric, while they might have difficulty finding common topics of conversation and become introverted or otherwise will talk extensively about their own particular interests.

Their inability to pick up non-verbal communication cues such as facial expressions, tone of voice and body language makes communication challenging and causes high levels of anxiety.

Everyday tasks can cause high anxiety and leads to many people with Asperger's syndrome to withdraw from society.

"These are skills which can be learnt but it takes a long time for them to become natural, as anyone who has seen an awkward looking teenager can appreciate," Workskills tutor Barbara Ross-Davis said.

Despite these challenges Goddard is currently gaining work experience at the Cashmere Club as a kitchen hand and hopes to be able to travel in the future.

"I want to visit the United States. I find American politics and the history really interesting. I also want to visit Singapore," he said.

Sam Goddard -- Rotary Best Speaker award speech transcript:

Hi, my name is Sam. I am 20-years-old and I have Asperger's. So how does Asperger's affect what I see for my future? What do I want for my future?

I have thought a lot about what I want for my future and one word says it all -- INDEPENDENCE. Yes, I want to be independent!

In the future I see myself getting a job. I see myself being able to get to places on my own. I see myself looking after myself in my own home. I see myself being happy, spending time with family, my friends and my pets.

I know that achieving this independence will be harder because of my Asperger's, but I know I can achieve this. There are many people who have overcome their own personal difficulties and disabilities to achieve great things, so there is no reason I can't achieve my goal of being independent.

Winston Churchill was a famous British politician. He had a lisp and stutter, but he worked and worked to become one of the best orators in history. He went to speech therapists. He would spend weeks writing his speeches. He would practise his speeches in front of the mirror until they were perfect. Winston Churchill was one of the greatest Britons in history. He showed that hard work and perseverance can overcome a disability.

Nelson Mandela had to overcome enormous hardship to achieve great things. Mandela was jailed for 27 years by the South African apartheid government for standing up against them. Under the apartheid government non-white South Africans suffered terrible human rights abuses. They were forced to live in separate areas from whites. They had to use separate public facilities, such as separate buses, separate toilets and separate hotels. Whites were not allowed to marry non-whites. Non-whites were forced off their farms and the farms were sold cheaply to white people. Mandela was well educated and knew this was wrong. He was prepared to stand up against the government for what he knew was right, even though he knew that he would go to jail. When he was finally released from prison he went on to lead anti-apartheid movement. He became the first black president of South Africa. He didn't choose the easy path. He stood up for what he believed in. He showed strength in hardship. And he achieved great things. His greatest achievement was the abolition of apartheid.

These great men only achieved great things because they were prepared to work hard, they persevered through hard times and they stood up for what they believed in. If I can show some of these qualities -- hard work, perseverance and self-belief -- I can achieve independence.

To be independent I know I will have to work harder than others to overcome the difficulties that Asperger's causes. Understanding my Asperger's is helping me to overcome these issues. For instance, I have difficulty communicating with others. I am making a real effort to improve my social skills. I am trying not to talk just about my interests, but I am trying to ask people questions about themselves and their interests. This might seem really easy and natural if you don't have Asperger's, but it is something I have to work hard at. Remembering instructions is hard for me. I often forget what I have been asked to do. I have to focus and really try hard to remember instructions and even have things written down to help me.

I know I will have many more issues to overcome in life, especially if I am going to achieve my goal of being independent. But by focusing on what is important, and with lots of hard work, perseverance and self-belief, just like Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela, I will achieve my goal of independence.

- NZ Herald

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