We caught up with Matthew and Zac who are about to leave Vibe having two years here. They share their insights into what life has been like for them at Vibe and how they’re feeling about the future. Both have been coming to Vibe for almost two years – Zac on a full-time basis and Matthew two days a week. Matthew attends school 3 days a week. 

“We didn’t like being at school.”  

M: The people were the absolute worst, they were cold. Being autistic in mainstream is horrible, especially someone who doesn’t have very good social skills.  

Z: At first, I thought it was the people and I couldn’t handle being around groups but over the years, now I’ve got friends, and I can handle being around a lot of people. It was the school set up. Mainstream is such a linear approach and rigid in what they do. Set classes, set times, no options. I was out of education for years, and had a home tutor for a while, but that didn’t work. 

M: Also, for me it was just such a stressful place and very full one and you had to adapt quite quickly, and I wasn’t very good at that. My school had an ASN base, but it was not very good when it came to dealing with autistic people. I went a few times, but after Covid hit, we came back and did nothing. I tried to work with them, but they didn’t want to. For example, I was working with someone to get a questionnaire sent round to help people, we used a template from another school, but they rejected. I did to make things better, but they didn’t want to know. That was very frustrating as we worked really hard. They were unwilling to help change things. 

The early days at Vibe: 

Z: When I joined, I remember my first day here. I went into the dark room and there were people playing on the switch and I remember not being able to speak. I didn’t know these people. I spent most of my time with my hood up and head down, trying to be invisible. 

M: I already knew someone who was here. At first though I didn’t join in, I just listened to everyone talking, as I didn’t know what to say. Very different from how things are now.  

Life now at Vibe: 

Z: everyone just looks to me for answers (laughs). I’ve enjoyed coming and it’s better than school. I don’t view my time here negatively but I’m ready to move on now. I don’t need it anymore as it’s helped me to move on and that’s why I’m going to college. I feel more confident speaking to people. I spent a year on work experience here with the facilities team and I really enjoyed it. 

M: People are willing to speak to me. That’s a shocker. In the past I had to really get people to talk to me rather than them willingly talk to me. I’ve developed a lot more friendships here than I did at school. It has been so much easier to connect with people as we’re similar. There are also less people, so you don’t get lost in the crowd compared to at school. 

How has Vibe helped you: 

Z: there’s this annoying guy Neil who keeps making me do things (laughs – Neil is Zac’s Learning and Wellbeing Practitioner at Vibe). Before I came here, I couldn’t even leave my house. Since coming here, I can actually leave my house and I don’t have the confidence of a squirrel. I’ve started going to the gym and that’s helped a lot with my physical and mental health. I’m a lot happier now. This place really got me to go outside and encouraged me to be social until it wasn’t the worst thing to be. 

M: I’ve connected with people. It’s been a much better alternative than school, it really has been, and I’ve probably gained a lot more here in two years than the thirteen at school. It’s a more relaxed environment and I can learn at my own pace, doing what I wanted rather than what school sets. Especially the social side. I had no friends at school, and I couldn’t talk to anyone. I’m going to miss this place. 

What have been the highlights of your time in Vibe: 

M: Zac! (laughs) Making friends and connecting with people has definitely been a highlight. And doing a lot more things I wanted rather than being forced to do stuff.  

Z: Completing my year-long work experience with Donaldson’s facilities team. I felt really proud of that. I was responsible for project managing the redecoration of a room in the building. I remember at first thinking I’m going to mess this up. But I was so proud at the end that I did it well. A fantastic achievement. 

What does the future hold for you: 

M: I’m going to Dundee and Angus College to do a course on Gaming, Technology and e-Sports. I’m excited about it but also a bit scared. It’s come round a lot faster than I thought it would. There will be a lot more people, but I went along to an event to meet those joining the course and I did talk to quite a few people. I’m going to join their e-Sports Club as it’ll be a good opportunity to meet people. I thought I wouldn’t be able to do that in the past but now I can. 

Z: I’m off to do an Access Course at Sighthill College so that I can do more courses next year to help me to be a firefighter. When I was a kid, I nearly lost my leg but thanks to a firefighter they saved it. And maybe one day I’ll also do some support work, like Neil does here, to support other people. Neil’s not a bad guy (laughs). 

What have you learned from your time in Vibe to help you in life: 

Z: I’ve become less shy and can now speak without whispering. I feel like I have more of a presence now than before when I was just in the background. 

M: I have better social skills and that will help me not to get lost in future. 

Which words would you use to describe Vibe: 

M: Relaxing. Social. Fun 

Z: Reliable. Encouraging 

And how do you feel about your future now: 

Z: I feel excited about the prospect of it. I’m optimistic. 

M: The course I’m going to study covers many areas so there are potential opportunities to specialise.