Lego Enterprise Assists Autistic Children
12 March 2014 at 8:29 am
A new social enterprise in Melbourne has opened its doors to LEGO enthusiasts with the aim of creating a community for kids who struggle to socialise, including children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“The social enterprise, Inside the Brick, is an example of impact investing in Australia, producing both financial and social returns for investors,” founder Rob Deakin said.
“It earns revenue by running construction play sessions and themed children’s parties using the world most popular construction toys.
“Inside the Brick’s first studio opened in Melbourne in February 2014 and has already had hundreds of children through its doors including 22 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“In the first year of operations it aims to reach 300 ASD children.
“While the company caters to kids with or without social learning difficulties, the benefits to children on the autism spectrum are particularly notable and well researched.
“Children on the autism spectrum are typically drawn to the construction play such as LEGO but struggle with many mainstream group activities due to the associated rowdiness, competitiveness and expectations to be extraverted.”
More than half a million Australians live in families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder and families with children on the autism spectrum report a range of difficulties in participating in mainstream social play and activities.
Deakin said belief in the club idea was strengthened when he won a Churchill Fellowship in 2013 to travel overseas and pursued his interest in construction play and autism.
He said he learned techniques to accommodate sensory learning difficulties in play sessions, providing a unique opportunity for kids with autism to interact with other “socially typical” kids and learn social rules and appropriate behaviours at a critical time in their lives.
Returning to Australia, Deakin said he began to look in to the idea of opening a permanent studio that could offer the experience to a wider range of kids.
“Recognising both the social and commercial opportunity Inside the Brick presented, Social Ventures Australia (SVA) provided start-up funding through their Social Impact Fund, to help get the idea off the ground,” he said.
“The Fund approved a loan to establish a play centre in Melbourne to provide a permanent site for their activities and expand operations. As a social enterprise, 50 per cent of the profits from Inside the Brick will go towards helping others set up clubs along similar lines.”
SVA Social Impact Fund Manager Alex Oppes said: “Ideas like Inside the Brick offer an innovative and sustainable model for achieving long-lasting social impact, and increasing the range of financing options available to these enterprises is a critical component in scaling their impact.
“Through supporting enterprises like this we hope the Social Impact Fund will act as a catalyst for more impact investing in Australia, and create an investment market that will better meet the needs of investors seeking both a financial and social return."