Unstoppable: How Matthew Kenslow Has Redefined Success While Navigating Society With Asperger’s Syndrome
People on the Autistic spectrum are not really that different than anybody else. It is just how our minds work. Sometimes, people on the spectrum need to use coping strategies during a sensory-overload attack, such as stimming. It does not mean that we are freaks, aliens, ill, or like wild animals.
As a part of our “Unstoppable” series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Kenslow.
Matthew Kenslow has grown up with a form of autism known 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 autistic people interpret things differently from the rest of the world. Notwithstanding the hardships, he found catharses through juggling, piano playing, memorization, writing, and much more. At age 23, he published his first book Juggling the Issues: Living with Asperger’s Syndrome, which has made a difference in countless lives across the world. 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 and science teacher. Currently, he is a student teacher for Enhanced Mathematics at his former middle school, Ensign Intermediate School, seeking to be done by December 2022, and is an employed substitute teacher for NMUSD. On the side, Matthew is a professional YouTuber and an influencer on Instagram.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is really an honor. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Diagnosed with a speech delay at age three, and with “Asperger’s Syndrome” when I was about six, I had lived an adventurous life amid struggles. Some traits of Autism made life easy, whereas others made life hard. I faced diverse issues — from social awkwardness and shyness, to discrimination and name calling, to an intense struggle to read and concentrate (et cetera). When I got older, I started gathering the pros and cons, and putting them to words. I never allowed Autism to have the prerogative to slow me down. If I could accomplish everything that I could do, then so can anyone else, and that is what I want to encourage the world with.
Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you were diagnosed? What mental shift did you make to not let that “stop you”?
When it was finally made clear to me that I had Autism, in ninth grade, everything in my life made sense. I kept wondering why I could not socialize like everybody else, why I did not always understand sarcasm or even the instructions that my teachers would say from time to time. I wondered why I talked the way I did and why I always seemed to be the one picked on, sometimes being voted out of the presence of others. Nevertheless, I never let that stop me, and upon realizing my disability, it made me take a stand so that discrimination would end. In order for discrimination to end, I written a book and took to social media to explain thoroughly who we Autistics are, so that everybody can understand what we go through and that we can still be great people to hang around with. My goal is for people to come together and spend time with each other, in lieu of dividing one another into different groups. I also am taking a stand of disability awareness in general — both developmental and physical.
Can you tell our readers about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite your challenges?
I never allowed the label of “Asperger’s” or “Autism” have the prerogative to slow me down, insofar of becoming a royalty-published author to a book that is making a difference around the world, earning a medal that is equivalent to the rank of Eagle Scout, being an accomplished juggler — juggling for thousands of people in schools, churches, and benefits — becoming a piano player, achieving two science degrees, training to become a middle school mathematics and science teacher, memorizing a whole bunch of things (such as the president’s birth, death, and term dates; the elements of the Periodic Table; and the countries of the world), and being a professional YouTuber and Instagrammer influencing many across the world.
What advice would you give to other people who have Asperger’s?
My encouragement for those like me who have Autism/Asperger’s is to never allow the disability to stop you! You have a mission in life tied to the capability of accomplishing that mission. Be Number One. This does not mean trying to be in first place. Being number one should be viewed as a rank by which any person can achieve, and to be number one, you’re not setting your standards based on other people, you are setting your standards based on your own self. We are all unique individuals, created to do what we’re called to do. We all have a unique skills set. Being number one means that you are trying the best you can and persevering to meet your goals just the way you are. If I can accomplish everything that I did, then certainly you can too, plus more.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I will have to credit my mother for this. She is the one who took me to get tested and upon my diagnoses at the ages of three and six, she did whatever she could to get me early intervention, as well as a great life. She also advocated for me, telling my teachers about me before school began, as well as taught me life skills, from some cooking to driving to balancing a checkbook. She is and always has been my number one supporter.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My number one joy in life is knowing that I am using my story to encourage and motivate others. As I always say, if I could accomplish everything that I have accomplished thus far in life, then so can you — plus more! I am grateful for the privileges of appearing in magazines, blogs, social media, news media, and radio — and I will continue until everybody in the whole world understands us who have disabilities for who we are, and to accept us for who we are. I am quoted as saying, “Behind the disability, we have a heart and a mind.” My goal is for those who are disabled to accept and believe in themselves and that they have purpose, after which, I want everybody else to believe in themselves too. Everybody has a purpose, but nobody has the purpose to bully and discriminate others. It takes a lot of time and people to cure a cancer or build a skyscraper, but it hardly takes any time to choose to be nice. So why can’t people just be nice to one another and especially themselves? That is my goal for 7.8 billion people and the next generation(s) to believe that and be raised with that. I am never going to stop doing whatever I can to help everyone on earth.
Can you share “5 things I wish people understood or knew about people with physical limitations” and why.
- People on the Autistic spectrum are not really that different than anybody else. It is just how our minds work. Sometimes, people on the spectrum need to use coping strategies during a sensory-overload attack, such as stimming. It does not mean that we are freaks, aliens, ill, or like wild animals.
- I just wish that people can recognize us on the street as people with Autism and not misfits in society, much less a dangerous threat. I have faced discrimination in my own neighborhood, even in recent years. I was stared at, given the weirdest looks, ignored, laughed at, teased at, cussed at, ran away from, followed by a vehicle, and even had to gone near run for my life. Plus, on social media, I was begged not to have children a couple of times. It hurts me day and night, and even past midnight; it keeps me up practically every night of my life. I’m like, we are one score in the twenty-first century; shouldn’t bullying and discrimination be eradicated by now? Shouldn’t everybody have the understanding and acceptance of people with “disabilities”?
- I wish that people would think twice before assuming that we are antisocial. I cannot speak for every single person, but I have found in life (including me personally) that we truly want to socialize, but we might be either nervous or uninterested in what our peers think of as fun.
- I wish that people acknowledge that we can be great friends to be around.
- I wish that once people understand all of these misconceptions, then they will make a point to help others feel included. If those with disabilities (including Autism) do not get included, then they will not feel included. If they do not feel included, then they will conversely feel lonely, left out, depressed, despair, and hopeless. I contend that early in life, those who are not classified as “disabled” who have no problem in social interactions should be taught about disabilities and inclusion. It is hard enough for us on the spectrum to step forward and ask to spend time with friends, but it is a heck of a lot easier if those friends simply come to us, but not in a way that makes the person feel uncomfortable. Since everybody is unique, the best thing is to simply spend time and get to know them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
One of my top favorite quotes would have to be one I heard in twelfth grade: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” which is commonly attributed to Confucius. This relates to my encouragement to never give up on your passions. You love the things that you are passionate for; once you find it, make that your career. My passions include juggling, inspiring others, music, teaching, mathematics, science (et cetera), and here I am juggling for several children and teens across the district, motivating them to never give up on their passions (I have a juggling analogy that I say while simultaneously juggling). Here I am currently training to become a middle school mathematics teacher, teaching and tutoring students, which has become my daily motivation and has given me so much joy. Here I am as an influencer on social media, an author to a book that is followed in every habitable continent on earth, and voluntarily speaking for radio, podcasts, and television. Here I am playing piano or keyboard at various churches for years. All of these things are my passions and had therefore never felt laborious; usually, I am oftentimes very sad when they are over, even if I am coming back the next morning.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
There are perhaps hundreds of people whom I would just love to meet in person. Unfortunately, as every year goes by, dozens of them die before I get that chance. But if I had to choose to meet one living person (and believe me, there are many), it may be Howie Mandel. Mr. Mandel, unbeknownst to him, has actually given me the courage to talk about a fact of Autism that I face, but was kind of bit undecided due to personal embarrassment. Even though I can handshake others and touch doorknobs, I am hyper concern with what I touch and particularly with what goes in my mouth. I always have hand sanitizer in my room and frequently use it. Still, I rarely eat anything with my hands, resorting to eat things like hamburgers with paper, napkins, or even with silverware. I was shy to articulate all of this in my book, but then I watched an interview about Mr. Mandel coming out with what he goes through. I am like, if he can be comfortable explaining this to the world, then I can too in order to spread awareness. I would like to thank him one day.
Unstoppable: How Matthew Kenslow Has Redefined Success While Navigating Society With Asperger’s… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.