A North Grenville resident has received an Ottawa-based award recognizing his work advocating for people with autism. Matthew Bell has been speaking up for people with autism for the past three years. It started with his blog, the Auspicious Aspie, which documented what life was like for people on the spectrum. The blog caught the attention of Autism Ontario, which published some of Matthew’s writing in their magazine last year. Matthew has also done a webinar talking about the challenges students with autism face in the school systems, as well as radio and print interviews advocating for changing Autism Awareness Month to Autism Acceptance Month.
“There’s not a lot of information from people on the spectrum,” he says. “It mostly comes from people who look at us and read books about us. There’s a lot of misconceptions and assumptions about us that I try to dispel and get the truth out there.”
Matthew says some of these misconceptions come from TV shows which portray people with autism as science nerds who love Star Wars. People with autism have diverse interests, and Matthew adds that, while he does enjoy Start Wars, he also likes to play sports and listen to rock music. “We’re a wide variety, just like everyone else, and we should be seen and treated as such.”
People with autism are also often portrayed in the media as unstable and violent. That is a dangerous misconception in itself. People with autism often have a hard time communicating, because they are uncomfortable with, or don’t understand, social cues that the general population takes for granted. “When that happens, we get frustrated and, sometimes, we don’t know how to get the frustration out,” he says. According to Matthew, people with autism can learn how to cope with this frustration in a productive way through physical activities like horseback riding, self defense classes, weight training, jogging, or playing sports. “Get your brain working, get your brain to calm down, and get your aggression out in that way”.
Because of his hard work advocating for people with autism, Matthew has been awarded the Dr. John Davis Burton Award through the Paul Menton Centre at Carleton University. The award was created in memory of Dr. John Davis Burton, who was a champion and an advocate for persons with disabilities. The award is given out annually to a student who is enrolled at Algonquin College, Carleton University, La Cité collègiale, or the University of Ottawa. Matthew was really happy to be named this year’s recipient, and it was a much-needed positive bump during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I had some good news come my way, and it is something that I really appreciated,” he says.
Matthew has put a pause on his blog to focus on his studies at Carleton University and his paying job; however, he is currently working on a book that he hopes to publish in the next few years. It is a zombie novel that features a main character with autism. “From the books I read, there is only one with a main character who is on the spectrum, and even then, he is not openly so,” he says. “So, I am trying to change that by writing a book myself, with a main character and other characters on the spectrum, and go at it from that near divergent point of view on how we might feel if this happened, and how we might see the world turn out if this happened. It’s my take on an old genre with a fresh twist.”
It is clear that Matthew is passionate about advocating for people with autism. He says that many people with autism feel like they need to fly under the radar and fit into a world where they often feel they don’t belong. “Someone has to take the jump and see where it goes. We have to be more out there, so that the people coming after us can afford to be shy without suffering the consequences, because we broke that ground for them. I am willing to take the torch and blaze the trail.”