Montreal boy on autism spectrum becomes, briefly, a social media star
MONTREAL -- For most autistic kids, it hasn’t been an easy year. But for one boy at a Montreal special-needs school, it’s at least been a great week, after he took the Internet by storm.
If you were to ask his mother, seven-year-old Billy Katsabanis likes to be on camera.
“He feels famous from like a long time ago,” his mother, Stella Tzintzis, told CTV News while laughing. Katsabanis is on the autism spectrum, and is a student at Giant Steps, an elementary school for children who have autism.
Recently Katsabanis got his wish, becoming a social media sensation.
“It all started when he won the crew neck (sweatshirt) from the No Better You Foundation,” Tzintzis said. The charity was founded by Montreal special needs teacher and former contestant on ‘The Bachelor,’ Vanessa Grimaldi, who mentioned Katsabanis on her social platforms. She has 710,000 Instagram followers, so that got Katsabanis lots of attention.
“And then the love came pouring in — for over 100,000, close to 200,000 views,” Tzintzis said. One of the well-wishers who reached out to Katsabanis was comedian Howie Mandel.
“We know Vanessa,” said the school’s director general, Thomas Henderson, pointing out that Grimaldi has done a lot of work raising funds for special needs children over the years. “But for Howie Mandel to get involved is pretty special.”
It also thrust the school into the spotlight at a time when — like seemingly every institution — it has to adjust to life with the pandemic. For instance, the school had to repurpose its sensory room to another classroom because of distancing rules. A sensory room is a quiet and interactive space often used to stimulate children on the autism spectrum
“It’s definitely a hole in our school the children really miss it,” said Belinda Solomon, a teacher at Giant Steps. She said she hopes the school can reopen the sensory room next year.
For the time being, Katsabanis is basking in his fame as a social media influencer.
“Everybody is just feeling what our family was going through and encouraging and saying bravo,” Tzintzis said.