I Went From Being Teased For Having Autism To Becoming A Social Media Influencer

Photo: Courtesy of the Author
I Have Autism Spectrum Disorder And I Am Unstoppable

I more than just juggle during my motivational speaking engagements. 

I juggle the challenges — and stigma — that accompany having Autism.

I was diagnosed with "Asperger’s Syndrome" circa 2001, which is now simply referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

In spite of my "disability," I became an accomplished juggler, pianist, a recipient of a medal that is equivalent to the rank of Eagle Scout, a college graduate of two science degrees, and a published author — all by my mid-twenties.

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I have never allowed my diagnosis to slow me down and I have not given up on any of my goals. I persevered despite my setbacks.

For me, having Autism is simply an "enhancer" plugged into my brain; it enhances my perception of life.

Living with Autism has given me a different lens through which to view the world.

It has taught me empathy and the value of life. It also gave me perseverance, insofar as coping with life’s struggles.

What is difficult for me can be a piece of cake for most others, and what's challenging for others is often easy for me. For instance, I often found it difficult to concentrate in class and on exams. I felt pressured when my classmates began turning in their tests before me.

More often than not, I was the last person to complete an exam, often several minutes after class was over. It's been extremely difficult to muster up the courage to go up to people and make small talk — yet I have seen so many of my peers doing so as if it was nothing. Other things I find difficult are coming to terms with change or having to part with things that are attached to arbitrary memories, like special party napkins from a fun event I attended.

On the flip side, I'm really adept at finding patterns in things and I'm great at memorizing facts, dates, and numbers. By high school graduation, I had all the president’s birthdates, death dates, term dates, native states, and presidential numbers memorized, as well as all of the countries of the world.

Toward the beginning of college, just for fun, I memorized all the elements of the periodic table. Another quirk: I love doing mathematics from Algebra to Calculus 2 and view it as relaxing puzzle-solving time. I'm also oddly determined to complete what I've started in one setting — as well as perseverant in practicing a skill or solving a puzzle. 

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I always loved writing since early elementary school. At the beginning of my college days, I began writing stories to help others understand what living with Autism is like. When I was twenty-three, I became an official royalty-published author. My book, Juggling the Issues: Living with Asperger's Syndrome, is a deeply personal perspective from my heart and mind ad it's helped people in understanding their loved ones who have Autism.

In it, I describe the hardships of life (including lack of social skills, difficulty in concentration, the fastidiousness of organization, the 24/7 pain of reliving all the times I endured discrimination for our "disabilities," and more), as well as finding catharses, like piano playing, juggling, teaching, and creative writing.

At speaking engagements in schools and benefits, as well as on social media, I encourage everybody — autism or not — to find something that they're passionate about and to never give up on those passions.

Unfortunately, not everybody yet is aware of who autistic people really are. And even those of us who are aware use the autism label to discriminate against us, thereby not accepting us for who we are. That's the difference between awareness and acceptance. When a person is aware of us, they can either accept us or not. I face daily discrimination, from subtle looks people make in my presence to infrequent harshness toward me for seemingly no reason.

I have been teased, laughed at, stared at peculiarly, given the meanest of looks, yelled at by people in their vehicles, cussed at, ran away from a couple of times, made uncomfortable that I literally ran for my life, and was almost brutally beaten by a skateboarder who was calling me names and cursing at me.

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I describe how those challenges have impacted my everyday life, and I am to lend understanding, provide inspiration, and encourage readers to put aside differences and embrace the gifts that neurotypical individuals share with the world.

Another thing that made me declare that I am an unstoppable Autism advocate is getting out there across social media. I became a professional YouTuber and  Instagram influencer. I'm followed by hundreds of thousands on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook, where I share a lot of what it's like living with Autism, including my "Be Number One Analogy." 

In a nutshell, that analogy means not setting your standards based on other people, but basing them upon your own self. Then do the best you possibly can do to develop the skills you are passionate about, thereby being "Number One" in your particular skill set — we all have different ones.

I also stress the value of not bottling things up inside; find somebody whom you can trust to talk about things you are holding in. I also post things that bring me joy, such as my hobbies of photography and videography. I enjoy taking pictures of naturescapes, planespotting, fire buffing, and more. I also chronicle my adventures in attending my university and my journey to becoming a teacher.

Throughout this piece, I put the word "disability" and its derivatives in quotes, because a friend of mine on YouTube commented one day, saying that he views people with "disabilities" as merely having a "different ability," and thought that was a very optimistic outlook.

Being disabled should not limit a person; we just need to have special accommodations to reach our dreams. We must come to terms with having a "disability," knowing our limitations, but also acknowledging our talents, too.

My name is Matthew Kenslow and I will never let Autism define me.

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Matthew Kenslow has grown up with a form of autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome and now is an Autism advocate.