A Costa Mesa man with autism spectrum disorder raises awareness and inspires children as a teacher, volunteer, social media star and juggler.
Matthew Kenslow sees the world through a different lens than most people around him. Some days it’s a blessing, others a curse. Every day, it’s a source of determination to pursue his dreams no matter what and motivate others to do the same.
The 27-year-old Costa Mesa resident has earned an associate of science degree in chemistry from Orange Coast College, a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry from Vanguard University, earned math teaching credentials, written a book, earned the Gold Medal of Achievement through Royal Rangers and has become a social media star — all while navigating the challenges of living with autism. He can also play the piano and juggle, skills he often uses in his volunteer work. Most Sundays, you can find him playing keyboard at a local church. And if he can do it all, he tells people, they can too.
“Matthew is an extraordinary young man,” says Jeff Hittenberger, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education at Vanguard University, who met Kenslow about two years ago. “He brings tremendous interpersonal care and academic brilliance to his classes and embodies the sense of calling we want in all our teachers.”
Kenslow was 6 years old when he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism spectrum disorder. The condition presented a number of challenges — speech delay, concentration problems, shyness, among others — that required special accommodations and exposed him to teasing and bullying in his early school days.
With the support of his mom, teachers and Royal Rangers (a faith-based scouting and mentoring program he’s been involved with most of his life), he took on each challenge. He made new friends and pursued his passions, which now include volunteering as a commander with Royal Rangers, where he trains and mentors boys and helps them earn their merit badges in a similar way as Boy Scouts do. He’s also sharing his hobbies and raising autism awareness and acceptance on social media (he has more than 81.3K subscribers on YouTube alone), as well as substitute teaching.
“People have told me on social media that I’m giving them hope. That I’m giving their family hope. I’m helping a person understand their son better,” he says, adding that there’s still a need to bring more autism awareness as people living with it continue to be mistreated.
Kenslow says autism for him has come with pros and cons. One of the advantages is his ability to remember certain facts and dates, which comes in handy in academic environments. Sharing his knowledge is where he thrives, whether it be working with the boys at Royal Rangers or in a school classroom.
“I just love making things easier to understand to the best of my ability and to find new teaching methods and strategies to help students understand,” he says. “It’s just my passion and then to see and hear the lightbulbs go off, that moment when boys at Rangers or students get it, it’s rewarding to me.”
Sometimes in the classroom or when he volunteers at campus assemblies at various Orange County schools, he supplements his teaching with juggling and magic tricks to keep the kids further engaged. He’s been told he’s known among students as one of the favorite subs. Some have even asked him to autograph his book, “Juggling the Issues: Living with Asperger’s Syndrome,” a collection of personal essays about growing up with autism. He’s currently working on his second book about his aspirations to become a teacher.
“My joy is giving back,” he says. “I’m going to continue for the rest of my life, contributing however I can. And if it’s a million people or one person, my heart is hopefully making a difference.”