Author, Educator and ASD Advocate Matthew Kenslow’s Journey of Inspiration and Education
Growing up on the autism spectrum, Matthew Kenslow has different life experiences than someone who is neurotypical. Some of these experiences include challenges, such as navigating social relationships and bullying, as well as victories like academic achievements and finding a strong, caring network of support. Autism Advocacy OC Local
It is now his mission to offer encouragement to individuals with autism and to help educate and inform others through his thriving YouTube channel and speaking engagements at local schools—acting as the advocate and role model that he wished he had as a child.
When he was six years old, Kenslow was diagnosed with a form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which was then called Asperger’s Syndrome. According to Kenslow, his symptoms include poor eye contact and a lack of social and conversational skills.
Although he didn’t officially learn about this diagnosis until he was in high school, Kenslow began sensing that he was experiencing the world differently than his peers were from a very young age. “It started in kindergarten when I noticed that other classmates were seeing me a bit differently. As I got older in elementary school, that’s when some people called me names—but that subsided by middle school,” he recounts.
“Socially, I was shy. It was hard to put my foot forward at times. It was hard for me to ask my friends if I could spend time with them. And then I had a speech impediment, so I thought maybe my voice was the deterrent,” Kenslow shares. “But at the same time, in class, I noticed that a lot of my friends and other classmates seemed to be understanding a lot of what the teacher was saying and I was getting distracted a lot by different things.”
Upon entering his freshman year of high school, Kenslow asked his mom directly, “Do I have anything?” His mom’s answer and explanation of his diagnosis provided him with a sense of clarity and, as Kenslow describes, relief. “It felt like things were coming together,” he explains.
Although his ASD diagnosis has presented certain difficulties in his life, it hasn’t hindered him from achieving success in his education, extracurriculars and career. Since graduating from Newport Harbor High School in 2013, Kenslow has received his full Math credential, an Associate’s Degree in Chemistry, a Bachelor’s Degree in Biochemistry and is currently working on his Master’s in Education. He has earned the Gold Medal of Achievement through Royal Rangers, and in 2019, he published his first book, “Juggling the Issues: Living With Asperger’s Syndrome,” through River Birch Press.
“The reason I wrote the book is to explain from my perspective what it’s like living with autism. I’m hoping to encourage [others with ASD] that if I can do the things that I describe in the book, then so can you—plus more,” Kenslow explains. Aside from its inspirational takeaways, Kenslow also wrote the book to help those who don’t have ASD garner a better understanding of what it’s like living on the spectrum. “We are human beings and we have a heart and we have a mind behind the disability. It’s a plea to not judge books by their cover and know that we’re not really different from anybody else. It’s just how our minds work, and sometimes, we have limitations and some things we just need more patience on and more time to understand.”
Now, Kenslow shares his message of autism advocacy through his YouTube channel, which has amassed over 80k subscribers, and his speaking tour at different schools throughout Orange County. “It’s my No. 1 joy,” he says. “When I go to schools and I juggle and speak, a lot of the students are amazed. Then I give the message that juggling should represent passion, and if you make a mistake in life and something drops, well, don’t give up—bend down, pick it up and keep going. And, at that point, I do more advanced juggling tricks. I think having both of those together [resonate]—where I am both an entertainer, but also bringing in an analogy, life lessons and lessons on inclusion.”
Kenslow is currently working on his second book, which will cover his adventures of being a substitute teacher as a person on the spectrum along with continuing to offer his advice and encouragement.
For those who wish to be a better friend and ally to someone with ASD, Kenslow recommends initiating conversation with that person in a way that isn’t overwhelming, helping them feel included and trying to learn about their interests.
For those with ASD, Kenslow says, “One of my No. 1 encouragements is to not allow the label of autism to stop you or to slow you down because anybody can do whatever they set their heart and mind to. Don’t allow people to cause you to quit in the meantime. Try the best that you can, persevere and set standards based on your own self and not on other people. Everyone’s unique, and we all have different skill sets that come with patience and practice, but just be who you are, set standards for your own self, never give up and you shall succeed.”