Hard work helps Matteo overcome challenges
“When I was 13, I got bullied a lot,” Matteo Esposito, now 15, recalls. “I’d stim, and they’d imitate me.”
Stimming, or self-stimulatory behaviour, is common among people with autism. It can involve repetitive hand motions or repeating words or phrases. As a teen with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, Matteo’s difficulties with social interaction, intense focus on particular interests, and stimming singled him out.
“That was one of the reasons I knew I was different from other kids,” he says. “I think differently. A lot of people tell me I’m intuitive and smart. But I can’t see it that way.”
Yet he clearly is
smart, and very accomplished. Since coming to ErinoakKids as an infant in 1999 he has worked to overcome challenges, which today also include Tourette’s syndrome. He has turned his interest in music and drama into his greatest strength, and has become increasingly outgoing.
His progress is hard-earned. By the time he was two his parents, Angelo and Yolanda, began to notice he was not meeting his developmental milestones. Matteo was referred to ErinoakKids for a speech delay, and was subsequently diagnosed with Global Developmental Delay and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. By age four he had sensory issues including sensitivity to the textures of blankets, foods and loud noises. The diagnosis of Tourette’s came at age seven.
Over the years the Esposito family’s journey with Matteo at ErinoakKids included physical therapy, occupational therapy and behaviour therapy. Still, Yolanda suspected more was needed. When he was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder at age seven, his parents were already familiar with ErinoakKids and many of the therapists.
“They took us through things step by step,” recalls Yolanda. “Each of them communicated well with us and they all had a different role to play in Matteo’s care.”
Matteo particularly enjoyed Music Therapy and Drama Therapy, and soon became involved in teen dances and other events. For someone with a disability that usually includes social introversion, his increasing social skills were a special treat for his parents. Although he prefers to work behind the scenes at a drama event, he can stand and deliver on stage. He astonished his mother when he sang for the first time at an ErinoakKids talent show.
“I could not believe my eyes,” Yolanda says. “I didn’t know he was going to sing. But he did, and that blew me away. He was beltin’ it out that day!”
Matteo says he is obsessed with drama and music. “I have to live with it, but it’s an obsession I love.”
In 2011 he met singing star Lindsay Hamilton, who joined him in a jam session at ErinoakKids. His interest in the musical, The Jersey Boys,
led him to write to actor Jeff Madden, who starred as 1960s pop idol Frankie Valli in the Toronto production. The letter earned Matteo a meeting and substantial encouragement from the actor, who visited Matteo’s school. “He told me to always believe in myself.”
Matteo most definitely believes in himself today, thanks to encouragement from his family and his ErinoakKids care team.