by Nikki A. Sambitsky
Will Matus sits cross-legged, occasionally glancing off to the side; he never holds eye contact for too long. Clothed entirely in black, he smiles candidly and tugs nervously at his goatee as he leans in and crosses his legs.
Matus, a theater major, lives with mild Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder on the high functioning end of the spectrum. Those diagnosed with the condition find it impossible to maintain eye contact, exhibit repetitive behaviors and have difficulty with social interactions.
Matus, 21, a junior at CCSU, sits in a vacant classroom in the Samuel S.T. Chen Art Center, encircled by weathered wooden boxes doubling as makeshift seats. The weird lighting bounces unevenly off of the faded, dingy blue walls, as Matus stands up to pull a “theater red” curtain over the wall of mirrors, possibly to avoid confronting his own reflection during the interview.
“I was drawn to CCSU Theater because I loved the art of acting. I dreamt of using this self-expressive art since I was small. I use it as a way to learn about human behavior and to know about the parts I play,” says Matus.
“Sometimes it is difficult for people with Asperger’s to pick up on social cues. Theater helps me to focus to make eye contact. I make dead eye contact when I am in theater. I look back to acting to try to relate to people, and I am surprised by the results. That’s what I love about the art of acting, I put all of my acting skills to real life,” says Matus.
CCSU senior Anthony Yovina has watched first hand the leaps and bounds of Matus’ growth while in the Theater Program over the past 3 years. Yovina explained that acting gives Matus the ability to overcome his problems through self-development. In a world where people change themselves to fit in, Yovina said that Matus stays true to himself no matter what the circumstance.
“He is unique. He is his own person all of the time. He will be himself no matter what and it’s the greatest thing. Will is a phenomenally hard worker. He is the kind of kid that comes into a first read through (of a play) with it entirely memorized. He is the best. The biggest thing when it comes to acting is the prep work. Will always comes in prepared,” said Yovina.
Ravi Shankar, associate professor in the English Department at CCSU fondly reflected via email on Matus’ poetic creativity. Matus, Shankar wrote, is one of the most sensitive readers and writers of poetry in class this semester.
“He is someone who is engaged and focused, but also keenly aware of his surroundings and helping further our dialogue in the classroom. His bravery in confronting his autism head on in works of art is commendable and based on his performance as a creative thinker and collaborator this semester, I believe the future holds great promise for Will,” Shankar wrote.
“With it comes even greater responsibility, of course, but I think he’s up for it. I see him as an advocate and spokesperson for what can be overcome and believe his example can inspire others. I for one, hope he keeps writing and connecting with the world around him,” said Shankar.
Matus uncrosses and crosses his lanky legs, made exaggerated by his black slacks; he holds his tan, thin arms guarded by his sides. He stares at me intently for a moment and tries to make me understand the connection between acting classes and dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome.
“Life with Asperger’s is eating the same foods every day and doing the same things every day,” he says. “Before CCSU I used to go to Barnes & Noble and read the same Spider Man comic book over and over. There was a scene in which Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson kissed. I found that very touching.”
The interview ends and Matus sits, reflecting on his final thought.