When I was three, I was diagnosed with a speech delay. At age four, it was recommended for me to be enrolled in the Preschool Intervention Program. However, at age six, upon further testing, I was formally diagnosed with “Asperger’s Syndrome” under DSM IV.
From preschool to second grade, I was pretty much learning how the world works. I made some friends, but I could not understand why other classmates did not seem to like me. I remember walking by the swing set one day in kindergarten and hearing two classmates yelling at me, “Go away, Matthew!” and “You’re not our friend!” In class, I endeavored to fit in. I jumped into a game that seemed to be getting popular, since a lot of my classmates were joining it. At first, the leader was happy that I joined. Inside me, I did not understand the fun of the game, but I pretended to have fun anyway. Suddenly, that leader completely changed. Inside class or outside, whenever I jumped in, she yelled loudly at me, “You’re not playing with us!” These early recollections lived with me as I grew older. I could not understand for the life of me what it was about me to get those reactions. I never did anything wrong to them.
At that particular school, I was in special classes. However, for three years, I would spend parts of my day in a regular classroom. They were testing whether or not I could be mainstreamed. I was mainstreamed in third grade, when I switched schools. From third grade to sixth grade, I had pull-outs for speech therapy and R.S.P. (Resource Specialist Program). My mother was a number-one advocate for me to my teachers, and my teachers were very supportive of me, helping me fit in. For instance, on the first day of third grade, my teacher introduced me to everybody, including his previous year’s class.
I began making many more friends, but still, the ominous cloud of teasing and discrimination continued to follow me. It was hard to fit in since I had different interests and different ideas of fun. I was not the type of child who likes screaming and jumping around. I did not have any interest in things like Pokémon cards, for instance. I remember sitting alone and being emotional, in a dugout one day, which caught the attention of fellow third graders who came over to console me. Some friends spent time with me, but others were more hi-and-goodbye. Other students simply wanted me to go away. One of them even chucked a handball at my face. There was one student who repeatedly call me the same name (a discriminatory word that haunts the Autistic community).
Despite the friends I had, I was very twisted inside. This lasted until high school graduation. I could not seem to put my foot forward and ask my friends if it would be possible to spend time with them. I was tired of having what was later described as “superficial friendships,” where we talked a bit at school, but rarely hung out, outside of school.
At some point in my early life, I began realizing that I could not speak properly, which is why I had speech therapy. Ashamed, I assumed that was a deterrent. My mind was slow at processing information and understanding the social cues of fellow students. I took many things personally. I literally did not know what others meant. It hurt me when they began joking about it.
I put out a few videos on YouTube recently, dedicated to Autism and social interactions. In the middle of 2022, I was interviewed for a SiriusXM radio program. One of the hosts proposed the question, whether autistic individuals are antisocial or truly want to socialize. I gave my answer, but later came up with four reasons to back up my answer. Everybody with Autism is unique, so I cannot say that this would speak for every single individual. I propose that we are not antisocial, and I made an extensive YouTube video to dispel such a myth.
One, I was simply nervous to ask my friends.
Two, I was rarely asked by my friends to hang out with them. The rare times I was, I senselessly made up an excuse, because of reasons three and four.
Three, Could I completely trust them?
Four, what the heck would we do? I am somewhat traditional, enjoying conversations, neighborhood walks, puzzles, board games, and such. Growing up, all my friends were heavy into video games or computer games, which seemed to rob the time I had with them, thereby making me feel excluded.
I had heard of Autism when I was nine; one of my favorite movies was Miracle Run by Lifetime Movie Network. I must have watched it a hundred times. However, although I really liked drawing and running, I never associated myself with Autism. I did not have all the other things that the characters were exhibiting, such as echolalia and meltdowns. The only thing I knew, was that I never liked how I sounded, and some students did not treat me fairly. I did question why I had those two aforementioned pull-outs within the school day.
Speaking about the pull-outs, there was one day in my R.S.P. class during upper elementary, when I raised my hand, looked at my R.S.P. teacher in the eye, and asked, “Do I have Autism?”
He somewhat shrugged it off and said something to the effect, “No, you don’t.” The other R.S.P. teacher immediately said something like, “You don’t need to be asking that.”
From that moment until my high school days, I, for whatever reason, did not believe I had Autism.
Then one day as a freshman, I asked my mother the serious question out of the blue, “What do I have?”
That was when I was formally told that I have “Asperger’s Syndrome – a mild form of Autism.”
That was the defining moment when my entire life began to make sense and I began putting stuff together.
I decided to develop skills with which to entertain people and ultimately make a difference in their lives. Back when I was in early elementary school, I got into art and writing. In third grade, I picked up piano playing. In fifth grade, I began juggling. All of these became my catharses. I entered talent shows and writing contests. I began juggling at my local elementary school in sophomore year and even did a couple of small assemblies. I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.
I got the idea that juggling can represent not giving up on one’s passions. In 2018, I developed my juggling analogy. If you make a small mistake or a big mistake in life, and something drops (at this point I drop one on purpose), do not give up. Bend down, pick it up, and keep going and you will do amazing things.
Around the same time of my life, I developed a science demo analogy. I make a cloud in a bottle. In it, I explain that if a person bottles things up inside, he or she may begin to feel twisted and knotted up and pretty soon, might explode. This is the part where I release the tension of the transparent water bottle, making a translucent cloud. Ultimately, as I continue to get my point across, I take off the cap and release the cloud in the air before my audience’s eyes. My point is to learn to release emotions by finding somebody whom you can trust.
As a person with Autism, I, for one, can testify how easy it is to be so frightened and angry inside, and we can actually accumulate many things, such as stories of discrimination, being teased, wishing something happened better, and such. People with Autism, like me, might run into a room and stay there for a while. What we are doing is processing things by ourselves. These are times when we need to be alone, and it is a trait found in Autism. When the time is right, we will release the things that are troubling us. However, we might neglect to do so, leading to a “cloud”, that lingers inside of us.
I ask people without a “disability” to help those who do have a “disability” feel included. This comes by talking with them and finding out what they like to do. (I placed “disability” in quotes, because, as I tell everybody, a “disability” should be viewed as a “different ability” to live life.)
I view parents of “disabled” children as modern-day superheroes. The fact that they would be researching how to best raise their child, is a sign that they care. I encourage them to advocate for their child; continue to show them love and support. As they get older, I suggest teaching them life skills and how to advocate for themselves. My mother taught me cooking, balancing a checkbook, driving, and such. My high school R.S.P. was big on having us advocate for ourselves.
It always took longer for me to take tests. In my head, I usually knew the material, but my mind often distracted me. I was usually the last person to finish exams. I always had test-taking accommodations, such as extra time and a quieter space. Still, it was hard for various reasons. One, I wanted to get every single problem correct. Oftentimes, the answer choices seemed very tricky. Two, my mind cannot stop blasting music or replaying shows that I watched. Other times, my mind is distracted over stressful situations in my life, even if they are long forgotten by then. (These are also some of the reasons why I cannot get to sleep for hours after going to bed nearly every night.) Three, taking an exam requires reading the questions and answers. Oftentimes, they are super long. Reading is hard for the reasons I described above.
In stark contrast to reading, writing has always been a catharsis. I always wrote books and scripts, since elementary school, but never published them. I continued writing all the way up to my senior year.
In my first semester of college, in 2013, I began a new writing project. However, I told myself that if I start this, I am going to finish it this time. After a few years of writing, revisions, rereading, editing, and more writing, I hired a literary agent. My book was about a person growing up with Autism in the rural 1950s and 60s. The agent advised me to write a nonfictional piece about myself first, before publishing a fictional piece.
The next year, I completed my manuscript, Juggling the Issues: Living with Asperger’s Syndrome. At age 23, I became a royalty-published author.
Later getting a few Public Relations campaigns, I was able to encourage the entire world. I appeared on the news, radio, websites, magazines, blogs (et cetera), including Newsweek Magazine, Spectrum News, ABC7, Scripps News, Bloomberg, Insider, and dozens more. At the same time, my social media accounts began to grow, with 80,000 subscribers on YouTube and a million followers on Instagram.
I counted all of this as a tremendous victory for Autism Awareness and Acceptance. The reason why this is important to me is because my life has been quite a roller coaster. It was filled with love from family and friends, but it was also imbued with trials and tribulations. From 2014 to 2023, I had still experienced discrimination. I have been yelled at many times by people in vehicles. I have been cussed at, stared at, laughed at, ran away from, followed by a vehicle, and was nearly beaten by a name-calling individual with a skateboard in 2022.
In 2020, I overheard a parent telling his child not to communicate with me, even though I was a distance away.
In 2015, I overheard a father tell his son that I am a “weirdo” or something, just for nonchalantly walking past them. I turned around. He was looking at me, before veering off in a different direction with his family.
In 2017, a father expressed his annoyance with me just for walking in a public park. His young daughter got nervous because of what he did. Two days after that, I was inside a grocery market and two teenagers were snickering at me and making fun of me. However, I later invited them to go ahead of me in line, to which their countenance expressed remorse for judging a book by its cover.
Nevertheless, I never allowed these adversities to win!
I never allowed Autism to have the prerogative to tear me down!
I came to terms with my limitations, but never allowed the label of “Autism” to limit me, regarding continuing my education. I am currently working toward a Master’s in Education and ultimately starting a career as a middle-school math teacher.
I tell everybody that if I could do all the things that I do – get a book published, earn a medal equivalent to the rank of Eagle Scout, get degrees in chemistry and biochemistry, earn a full-math credential, become a substitute teacher who often hears “best sub,” become a social-media influencer, play the piano, juggle, memorize things that no human on earth has got to memorize without an eidetic or photographic memory, et cetera – then You Can Too, Plus More!
I do not say that everybody has to do exactly what I do. I am simply saying that everybody has a unique skill set and different levels of proficiency per skill. In my Be Number One analogy, I tell several people to be number one. Being number one should be viewed as a rank of which anybody can achieve. My definition of being number one is that you persevere in your goals, and never give up in obtaining those goals. Be the best that you can. Do not set standards based on other people, but base them on yourself. I tell people that if I was driven by jealousy, then I would not be here today.
In conclusion, I am hoping that my life will encourage nearly everyone on earth and the next generations. I am a proponent of not just Autism Awareness, but Autism Acceptance and Appreciation. I contend that once everybody puts aside their differences and competitions, comes together, holds civilized conversations, and makes others feel included, then this world will be a better place.
Disability or not, anybody can do whatever they set their heart and mind to do. Do not judge a book by its cover. I am quoted as saying, “behind the disability, we have a heart.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Matthew Kenslow has grown up with a form of autism that was once referred to as Asperger’s syndrome. Life has been an adventure as he pieced together all of his surroundings amid both praises and taunts. His mission is to teach others from a firsthand perspective about how people with autism interpret things differently from the rest of the world. He feels he has been blessed with the gifts to juggle, play piano and recall facts about the American presidents, geography, science and mathematics. He juggles at elementary schools and encourages the students to never give up on their passions. He has earned the Gold Medal of Achievement (which is equivalent to the rank of Eagle Scout) through Royal Rangers, a program he has been in since he was 5. Now, he is giving back to children and teenagers, teaching and mentoring them in a wide set of skills and knowledge. He graduated from Orange Coast College with an Associate of Science degree in Chemistry and with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from Vanguard University of Southern California. He aspires to be a middle school math teacher. Recently, he earned a full math credential after student teaching Enhanced Mathematics at his former middle school, Ensign Intermediate School. Currently, he is going for a Master of Arts degree in Education at Vanguard University and is an employed substitute teacher for NMUSD, often being called by students as “the best sub” and begged by them to come back the next day or to sub for their class soon.
Read the article here.