Pictured: Matt Hooper (left) and Tristan Joss (right)
Since joining Pixelated back in 2011, Matt Hooper’s confidence has increased, his social skills have soared and now he is paving the way for other young people in his community.
Pixelated is a social program run by YMCA Manningham Youth Services for young people aged 12 - 17 who have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The program aims to provide a safe space for young people with ASD to come together and socialise whilst sharing their enjoyment of video and board games, computing and other activities that promote social interaction.
Matt was 13 when he joined Pixelated as a participant. Every Thursday afternoon he looked forward to spending two hours hanging out and playing some of his favourite games, such as Dungeons and Dragons.
“Pixelated creates a safe space for young people with ASD to just be themselves. It promotes social interaction and allows participants to feel comfortable asking questions without being scrutinised,” said Matt.
In 2016, Matt turned 18 and it was time for him to graduate from the program. However, his journey with Pixelated didn’t end there. A program facilitator, who was volunteering at the time, approached Matt and encouraged him to also become a volunteer.
“When I was asked whether I wanted to start volunteering for the program, I immediately said yes. I wanted to make sure that other young people with ASD could have the same experience that I did,” said Matt
“And, it meant that I could continue joining in on all the fun!”
After 18 months of volunteering, Matt was offered a casual position to co-facilitate the program with Tristan Joss, the Youth Programs Coordinator at YMCA Manningham Youth Services.
“It was a no brainer for me. Matt has been a part of the program for so long and he is a positive role model for the participants,” said Tristan.
“Since becoming employed Matt has become the ultimate professional. He comes in early before the sessions to make sure everything is ready to go for the participants, and he stays back to pack everything away.”
For Matt and his family, gaining employment meant so much more than just ‘getting a job’.
“When I was younger, my parents used to worry about me not finding employment. This job has given them peace of mind and has opened up even more possibilities for me,” said Matt.
Outside of the program Matt works a couple of days a week at the local golf club, where he has also started to learn how to play. But his heart lies with helping others in his community.
“I like helping other people and Pixelated lets me do that. I know what this program meant for me and I want to ensure that the program remains a great social environment for the participants.”
Matt’s achievements and determination to help others sets an example for other young people with ASD. He is excited about developing the program and potentially starting another one for young people aged 18 – 24.