Author: Jonathan Laloz

Building Skills with LEGO® Bricks

The Benefits of LEGO® Brick Build Activities are Social and Practical 

You may remember LEGO® bricks from your childhood, or still be an avid fan (like me). A common learning tool of play for children, its popularity has been revived for adults with shows like LEGO® Masters reminding many of us just how much it has to offer.

There is also now a growing recognition of the benefits of building with LEGO® bricks as a tool for building social skills, analytical skills and mindfully relaxing. This is particularly helpful for individuals with autism (including adult autism) or other neurodiverse diagnoses. Many of our clients are surprised to hear just how much it has to offer in terms of social capacity building and problem solving skills, especially while building in a group.

Building on your own is great for improving problem solving, spatial awareness and physical development of fine motor skills. LEGO® Build Sessions like ours use teamwork to add new dimensions. In particular, it is great for levelling up your communication, negotiation and team work skills.

Benefits of LEGO® Brick Activities #1 – Social Capacity Building 

Many of our clients, particularly those with adult autism, set their own capacity building goals and work with us for coaching. Often these goals include social capacity building which can be hard to achieve through 1:1 coaching alone. Group projects build and consolidate social skills like sharing, collaboration, problem solving and teamwork.

By working in teams to achieve a common (and enjoyable) goal, you find yourself naturally working to express your thoughts clearly, listening to your teammates and working through negotiation and compromise. These skills can then be transferred into the rest of your life.

Importantly, when building with LEGO® bricks you will likely enjoy yourself so much that you won’t feel like you’re working on anything other than the build itself. You may even make some like minded friends along the way.

Benefits of LEGO® Brick Activities #2 – Practical Analytical and Fine Motor Skills

We all learn differently and at different speeds. Sometimes this means our fine motor skills can use some refining well into our adult years. Building with LEGO® gives you space to practice, strengthen and grow your fine motor skills.

Alternatively, as an adult on the autism spectrum, you may wish to practice your analytical skills. When building in teams, you will need to analyse your build and fine tune your planning to withstand the pressures of life; without the need for the dreaded ‘Kragle’!

At the end of your build you will also have created something tangible. It is rewarding to see physical evidence of our progress and achievements.

Benefits of LEGO® Brick Activities #3 – Relaxation and Mindfulness

Whatever your social, professional or life goals we all need to unwind from the stresses of general life. Reports are now suggesting that building with LEGO® bricks can help do just that.

The simple act of being in the moment, focussing on placing each piece where you would like it (or where instructed) can be incredibly relaxing and provide an excellent antidote to overstimulated days in a busy world.

When you take time each week to relax and de-stress, you will find many other parts of your life begin to ease too. You may be more able to focus, less likely to react emotively and more capable of putting into practice other life skills you are working on.

Join Us for LEGO® Build Sessions Every Wednesday

We invite everyone 15 years and over who identifies on the autism spectrum or with mild to moderate intellectual disability to join us in Queanbeyan for our weekly LEGO® Build Sessions. Work in a team as a builder, supplier or engineer to compete in teams while working towards your goals for social capacity building, analytics or fine motor skills. Contact us today to book.

The Importance of Building Confidence

One of the biggest obstacles I see with the people I work with is lack of self-confidence.  This is also something I’ve experienced myself in the past.  A lack of self-confidence can significantly affect anyone’s ability to perform at their full potential.  In this post, I’ll go through a couple of strategies that can help you improve your self confidence.

Before I go into some strategies to help you improve your self-confidence, I’d like to briefly go into what self-confidence is.  At it’s core, self-confidence is you believing that you are capable of doing something.  This can be specific to a particular task, or it can be in general.  Confident people often share common traits, such as being open to learning new things, recovering easily from setback and not being afraid to ask for help.

Now that we know a bit more about self-confidence, we can go into a few tips that can help you improve yours.  The first tip, and I’ve talked about this in previous posts, is setting goals.  One of the most important things is the ensure your goals are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.  This gives you the best chance of achiving that goal and making sure it is meaningful as well.  Another great thing about goals is they can be broken down into smaller goals.  This is important so as not to overwhelm you by trying to achieve something so big that it seems impossible.

The next tip is to celebrate your wins – no matter how small.  This includes celebrating when you achieve a goal, which is another reason why it’s important to break larger goals down into smaller ones.  The reason this is important is that it gives a motivational boost that will help keep you moving towards your next goal.

The final tip I’d like to share today centres around the use of positive language.  How do you feel when you say things like “I’m so disappointed in myself” or “other people are so much better at this than me”?  Not very good, is it?  Now say something like “I have many good qualities” or “I am good enough”.  That feels a lot better, doesn’t it?  Positive language is a great way to improve your self-confidence as it helps you feel better about yourself.

That was just a small sample of some of the things we cover in the confidence building course we offer.  If you’re interested in building your self-confidence, get in contact with us to find out how you can enrol in the next self-confidence course we’re running or do some one-on-one coaching to help you build your self-confidence.

Building job interview confidence

One of the biggest obstacles I’ve seen when it comes to people going through the job application process is the dreaded job interview.  Having been on both sides of the interview desk myself, I can also say that for the first few times being the interviewer I was nervous myself, so it’s not just the applicant that can experience butterflies in their stomach.  From my personal and observed experiences, a lot of this nervousness can be attributed to not knowing what’s going to happen and not knowing what to do.  In this post, I’ll give you a few tips and tricks that should help you stand out more against other applicants and alleviate some of those nerves.

When I was younger, I saw the job interview as a one-way conversation where they employer held all the cards and was the be-all and end-all.  As time went on, I learnt that the employer doesn’t hold all the cards, you also hold quite a few cards yourself.  The employer is looking for someone who can help them perform tasks and solve problems so they can provide a service to their customers.  Apart from a pay-day, you’re also probably looking for somewhere you can utilise your skills and help solve problems. So you can see now how you both need each other for each other’s benefit.

How you frame yourself is very important to how confident you feel during the interview.  My younger self lacked confidence because I thought the employer held all of the cards and offered all of the value, even though this wasn’t the case.  As time went on, I started to see how much value I was providing to the organisations I worked for through my unique skillset (everyone has their own unique skillset, by the way).  By the time I landed my last job before becoming self-employed, I knew very well the value I could provide that particular organisation during the application process, and it was my role throughout that process to ensure they did too.

Once you’ve got your mind in the game, so to speak, the next important step is preparing, preparing, preparing.  The aim of the job application process for the employer is to find the best person for the job, and your job (pardon the pun) is to convince the employer that you are that person.  There are quite a few things you can do to prepare for a job interview that will help demonstrate your suitability for a job.  Before we get to that, though I want to emphasize the keyword demonstrate.

When you’re answering questions in the interview, it’s important that you use examples where you’ve achieved something similar in the past.  For example, if an employer is asking about a time you handled a difficult situation, tell them a story of when you dealt with a difficult situation and what the outcome was.  Much like when you’re writing selection criteria responses, I recommend using the STAR method, which is:

  • Situation – the job you were doing (this could also be a volunteer role)
  • Task – what you were doing at the time
  • Action – the steps you took
  • Result – what ended up happening

Now, back to the interview preparation.  It goes without saying that you should also dress for the part, research where you’re going so that you’re on time and so forth.  Below are some of the most beneficial things you can do to prepare for an interview.

  • Research the organisation you’re interviewing with – for example, get to know what their core values are, what is important to them, who their customers are, and what their purpose is
  • Prepare some answers to commonly asked questions – these can be researched easily online
  • Prepare some questions to ask the interviewer – this shows that you’re interested and gives you an opportunity to learn more about your potential new employer
  • Do a role-play of the interview – get someone you know and run through a practice interview beforehand

Now that you’ve got the right mindset and are prepared for the interview, it’s time to get out there and smash it.  Just remember, you and the employer are simply having a conversation around how you can help each other out.  This means you can also use the interview to determine if that employer is somewhere you actually want to work, which highlights the importance of asking questions.  Finally, its not the end of the world if you don’t get the job.  It takes practice to get good at anything, interviews included, and if you blow the first few then there are plenty of jobs out there (even during these tough times).

Where can I find support to start my micro-enterprise?

In my last post, I talked about micro-enterprises and some of the things that need to be considered when starting one.  I also mentioned that there is a lot of support available to help you along the way.  In this post, I’ll go into some of those supports and how they might be able to help you start your own micro-enterprise.

While this post is targeted at micro-enterprise support in Canberra, Australia, some of it does apply to other parts of Australia (and there may be equivalent support available in other countries).  I’ve divided micro-enterprise supports into four categories, predominantly based on their funding source/purpose:

Government Funded Small Business Support

This category involves support provided by state/territory and/or federal government programs dedicated to supporting small businesses.  Often, these supports are highly subsidised, if not free, for people wanting to set up their own micro-enterprise.  These supports predominantly help people create a business plan and develop the skills and knowledge to start and operate a business.

NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) Funded Support

NDIS supports are provided in relation to a specific disability.  For example, most of our clients are either on the autism spectrum or have a mild to moderate intellectual disability, and have an NDIS plan that funds supports that we provide to them.  These supports can range anywhere from a monthly coaching session all the way through to an intentive SLES (School Leaver Employment Supports), which involves multiple sessions per week.  If this is the type of support you need, get in touch and we’ll see what we can do to help you 😉.

Self-funded Support

This type of support is often at the premium end of the scale, however it can also have the most impact at times.  Having said that, it is more than likely not going to be cheap (but it is often worth it).  This category consists of business accelerators, coaching and other programs to help you set up your own small business.  Quite often, there are programs tailored to a specific industry provided by people with years of experience to help set up businesses similar to ones they’ve run previously.

Gratis Support

Gratis support is support that can be provided at no or low cost from friends or family.  If someone you know has skills in business administration, then they might be able to provide advice or assistance to help set up and operate your new micro-enterprise.  I’ve worked with participants who have had the whole family involved in the running of a micro-enterprise, with each member of the family contributing their own skills to the planning and running of the business.

Conclusion

As I’ve said previously, running a business is hard, however you don’t need to do it alone.  The amount of support out there is phenominal, and to be honest, without it my businesses wouldn’t be where they are today.  Help comes to those who ask, and these days, more than ever, it’s important to be able to ask for and receive help.

What is a micro-enterprise?

Mainstream employment may not always be a viable choice for a lot of people with a disability.  In times past, the Australian Disabiltiy Enterprise (ADE), formerly known as sheltered workshops, have provided employment for people with moderate to severe disabilities, however this work can often be seen as menial and may not be paid at the award wage.  One concept that is starting to gain popularity is the mirco-enterpise, where a person with a disability sets up their own business to provide a valuable service to their community.

The process for setting up a micro-enterprise takes a lot of time and a lot of effort, much like any small business.  It begins by getting to know the person with a disability (participant) who is potentially interested in, and suitable for, setting up a micro-enterprise through a series of interviews and visits.  This gives a great insight into the interests, skills, strengths and abilities of a participant, which forms the basis of any business ideas that are investigated and possibly implemented.

Once a business idea has been formed, it is then battle tested in the open market to ensure there enough demand to create a business that can sustain the desired lifetyle of the participant.  Successful ideas can then be taken and turned into a complete business plan, which will serve as the blueprint for the new micro-enterpise as it is built.  The business plan is a key part in this process as it covers the strategic and operational aspects of the business, such as marketing, sales, finance and legalities.

At the end of the day, setting up a small business can be quite demanding, however it does offer a very high level of flexibility that you wouldn’t normally see in other workplaces.  While setting up a business can be overwhelming at the best of times, there is a lot of support available (which is a whole new post), especially for participants on the NDIS.  For the right person, running their own business could be a very rewarding way to achieve a lifetyle that might not otherwise be available.

Building confidence through work experience

Most of the people I work with have either never been in the workforce or have been unemployed for an extended period of time.  Because of this they often don’t have much to show on their resume, which isn’t very appealing for potential employers.  After doing some market research and running a series of work experience sessions, I’ve discovered that this is an excellent way to help people bolster their resume, increase their confidence and potentially find something they love doing in the process.  In this blog post, I’ll outline how we help people move towards their employment goals through our work experience program.

One of the most important, and unique, aspects of the work experience program we’ve developed are the business networks that my team and I have built up over the years (even before I started Self++ back in late 2019).  It’s through these networks, which are constantly growing, that we’re able to facilitate placements in a wide range of industries from computer repairs through to social media marketing to gardening.  This gives our program participants the opportunity to try different things and gauge what they love and hate about working in a particular industry.

Instead of limiting people to a single workplece over a twelve week period, we’ll customise a program where participants work at three or four different employers in different industries over the same period.  The industries and employers selected for an individual are based on their strengths and interests, and also who is available to facilitate a placement at the time.  If a participant has an employer in mind that isn’t part of our networks, we can also accommodate that.

During the placement, we provide one-on-one support to ensure everything runs smoothly and to address any concerns participants or employers might have.  This level of support also allows us to cover any workplace injuries under our own volunteer’s insurance, negating the need for employers to take out their own insurance policy.  At the end of each placement, we also gather constructive feedback from both the participant and employer about the positives and negatives of their experience in that workplace.

At the end of the program, our placement facilitator will compile the feedback from each of the workplaces into a final report.  The facilitator will also provide a written reference the participant can use when applying for work, and contact details that can be put on their resume.  If an employer decides that they want to take on a participant on a more permanent (and paid) capacity, then we’re also happy to facilitate that as well.

That sums up how our 12 week work experience program works.  If you’d like more information, please contact us on (02) 5104 3356 or email [email protected].

What on Earth is SLES?

Quite often I come across people who have no idea what SLES (School Leaver Employment Supports) is, or have never even heard of it.  Up until I started developing the SLES++ program, it was also something I knew little about.  In a nutshell, SLES is an individualised program to help people with a disability transition from school to the workforce.  This can be done using different techniques such as upskilling, coaching and training delivered in an individual or group environment.

While SLES can help prepare NDIS participants for mainstream employment, i.e: jobs that you’d find on Seek or any other job website, this type of employment doesn’t suit a lot of the people we work with for one reason or another.  This is where Customised Employment and Micro-Enterprises come into play.  Both involve a significant amount of ‘discovery’, that is interviews of a participant and those close to them, to get an idea of their strengths and interests so they can thrive in the workplace.

Customised employment involves using this information to work with a local employer to fill what I call a ‘labour void’ – valuable tasks that need to be done within the business but aren’t due to time and staffing level constraints.  Micro-enterprises are similar, however instead of working with a local employer, we help participants find a service that is valuable to their community (which could include local businesses) and work with them through the process of setting up a small business.

Once a participant has found a role that they love doing, whether it’s mainstream, customised or micro-enterprise, we will then help them transition to ongoing supports once their SLES funding finishes, so they’re not left in the lurch not knowing what to do.  This process is easier said than done, and can take up to 2 years from start to finish.  Having said that, by the end of the process SLES participants have a great chance to be working in a career that leverages off their strengths and that they find quite fulfilling.

For more information about SLES, including how to get it, visit our SLES Information website sles.info.

The importance of goal setting

One of the core tools in the high achiever’s toolbox is the humble goal.  There is a significant amount of research to support the fact that settings goals leads to a higher level of performance.  So much so, that one of the underlying principles of the NDIS is linking supports to specific goals in a participant’s plan.  While this is all good and well, you might be wondering why on earth are goals linked to such an increase in performance?

Before we delve into the ‘why’, we first need to look at what is a goal.  Basically, a goal is something you want to achieve at some point in the future.  One of the most popular frameworks for setting goals is the SMART technique, as defined below:

Specific
The goal must be clearly defined – it must paint a picture of the future with a reasonable level of detail.

Measurable
The goal needs to have some sort of measurement, whether it’s a quantitative (numeric) measurement or a qualitative (the quality of something) measurement. This way you’ll be able to see how you are tracking towards your goals, and when you have achieved them.

Attainable
The goal has to be realistic and achievable, otherwise you’re likely to feel demotivated when you inevitably fail to meet your goal.

Relevant
The goal needs to be in alignment with your values. If there is a conflict with your ethics and the goals you set, it’s not going to end well.

Time-bound
You need to put a time-frame on when the goal needs to be achieved by, otherwise our friend procrastination will step in and you’ll be watching Netflix instead of chasing the goal.

Now that we know what a goal is, we can go into why they are important.  First and foremost, goals give you something to aim for.  If you go shooting and there’s no target, it’s going to be a bit of a pointless exercise.  However, if you have something to aim for, you’ll be able to focus your energy on the right areas instead of wandering around aimlessly.

A Harvard study found that even by having unwritten goals, people were 10x more successful that those who didn’t have goals at all.  Furthemore, those who had their goals written down were 3x more successful than those who didn’t have them written down – 30x more successful than those without goals.

Goals also give you motivation.  By having your goal written down somewhere you can see it every day, you’re going to have a regular reminder of what you’re working towards.  It may also provide you that little extra bit of motivation you need if you’re having an off day.

Another great thing about goals is they can, and should, be broken down into smaller sub-goals.  Having a huge goal to buy a house, for example, might seem quite overwhelming, especially if you have no money and no job.  You can start by breaking this into sub-goals such as getting a well paying job, then have another goal that involves saving up the deposit, and so on.  You can even break these goals down even further if you have to.

There you have it, by having a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound, you’re able to design your future in advance and increase the level of success in your life.  And the beauty of the goal is that it isn’t set in concrete, so if your circumstances change or you find that you’re not on track to meet your goals for whatever reason, you can still rethink your goal and make any necessary changes.

New shop/office

Sometimes the universe works in mysterious ways, and you have to roll with the punches.  A couple of months ago I was in the unenviable situation where I had to move house quite abruptly.  Despite this being a rather negative situation, it turned out to have quite a few positive aspects to it.

One of the biggest benefits is that now that we’re not running out of a home office is that we’re now able to host clients on-site, opening up a plethora of support opportunities to help with employment goals.  Our office is collocated with our sister company, Finny Migs, which sells individual pieces of LEGO® online.  In the next week or so, I’ll be posting about some of the program we can now offer as a result of this move.

Order packing area
Aisle of LEGO®
Minifig wall, and more LEGO®

Instead of LEGO® lining my hallway, and taking up one of my bedrooms and the dining room, we now have a dedicated space that’s also free from a certain cat who likes to knock things over, and I now have a dining table that I can actually eat at (or store other things on).  This new workspace also has a better flow, with everything being more central, as opposed to being spread throughout the house.

Whenever I’m faced with a challenging situation, instead of playing the victim, as would have been the case in the past, I now ask myself “how can this benefit me”?  While it’s not the most extravagant of spaces, it’s a step in the right direction that allows us to do things we couldn’t do previously, and I’m quite grateful that we’ve gone through what we went through so that we’re better able to service our clients.

Accommodation Coaching Case Study 1

Last month, we had the pleasure of helping a participant move out of their student accommodation into somewhere more suitable for their transitioning lifestyle.  When they were referred to us, there was a level of anxiety around the whole process of applying for a rental property, especially given the way the market is in Canberra with low vacancy rates and a high level of competition.  The desired goal was to find accommodation before their current rental contract expired that was within their budget, had space to park their car and was reasonably close to where they worked and went to university.

After explaining the current nature of the market, the participant made the decision that it would be best for them to move into a shared house as soon as possible.  Our first session involved explaining the whole rental application process, what landlords were looking for in an application and what to say when making initial contact with someone advertising a property for rent.  The participant also came up with a list of features that were either desired or mandatory when looking for a property.

After our first session, the participant was able to book in two inspections for properties that suited them.  Prior to the first inspection, we met up to discuss the process and see if there were any questions or uncertainty.  During the inspection, we were discrete about our exact role saying we were a friend of the family helping out for morale support.  After being shown the property, it was decided that it wasn’t entirely suitable, despite the other tenants being nice.

We met up again just prior to the second inspection to go over the process and see if there were any question or concerns.  We then went through the second property and built some rapport with the existing tenants at the same time.  After the inspection, the participant decided they liked the place and wanted to apply for it.  We then guided them through the process of submitting an application, for which they were accepted, and provided advice afterwards on how they should go about ending their current contract.

In the end, our participant was relieved that they were able to find somewhere to live that met all of their requirements and was in a reasonably central location to meet their needs, despite a tight rental market.  While some compromises were made around the timeframe of the move, they were entirely driven and decided by the participant.  We were even able to help out with a couple of unrelated side-issues the participant was having, which led to one very happy participant.