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About 3.5 million Americans live with autism today, and at Newbury Park High School, Justin Matlock, freshman, represents the “happy, sweet, and innocent” character qualities that lie in every teen with autism across the nation.

Lisa Matlock, Justin’s mother, defines autism as a “disability that affects learning and communication skills.” However, this disability far from disables Justin’s avid passion for life. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball, hanging out with his two brothers, and cheering for them at their sports events. Matthew Matlock, Justin’s brother, describes Justin as very determined.
“When he was seven years old he snuck out of the house and rode his scooter about a mile down the road to get to church where the youth basketball games were played,” Matthew said.
Bill Matlock, Justin’s father, finds it a struggle to let Justin have his freedom. “By fault, we are overprotective parents, so letting him have enough independence, to grow as a young person, can be the biggest challenge.” Bill said. Matthew also feels protective of his brother, explaining that he treats him in a “brotherly tough love” way. Matthew, along with the rest of his family, is always keeping a constant eye on Justin because of his tendency to wander off.

Justin’s curiosity often shines through his ability to try and pick up new things. Lisa was surprised to hear how well Justin rode a three wheeler bike in his P.E. class. “My husband and I looked at each other in amazements, as (Justin) has never rode a bike in his life. It goes to show how everything is possible.” Lisa said.
Bill does not think Justin has bad days; he will only have bad or hard moments, but he always finds a way to work through it. “He can become agitated when he is unable to find a way to effectively communicate,” Matthew said.

Justin’s parents agree that NPHS does a great job with the special needs program. “The biggest reason why we wanted Justin to attend (NPHS) was because of all the wonderful clubs they offer in bringing together general education kids with the special education classes,” Lisa said. Being an NPHS alumni himself, Matthew believes the school also does a great job with the diverse programs offered for students with special needs.
Justin’s family has never experienced or felt any discrimination against Justin’s autism in public or in unfamiliar areas.

“Occasionally he will get some looks from people out of curiosity, as to why he is not acting ‘normal’, but for the most part people are pretty understanding,” Matthew said. To Justin’s parents, the biggest misconception about kids with autism is that they do not need or want any friends.

“Just because someone with autism is a little different, it does not make them any less of a person,” Mathew said.
Justin’s family urges people to get to know someone with autism. Talking to others, reading about the subject, or even supporting local autism events and volunteering at them can go a long way in helping spread awareness.

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This original story was written for ACT Today! (Autism Care and Treatment) by Newbury Park High School student, Kavita Rai.
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Autism Care and Treatment Today! ACT Today! is a national nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to raise awareness and provide treatment services and support to families to help their children with autism achieve their full potential.

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