LEGO’s core business is, as we all know, selling toys. But over the years, LEGO has grown beyond that. For instance, after the Dark Ages, LEGO started realizing, that it’s not just children that build with the bricks, but a lot of adults are too. This resulted in themes like Modular buildings and Architecture. When LEGO introduced Mindstorms back in 1998, it was meant to get children interested in programming. But it were the adults (and teens) that picked up this theme, and when they found out the limitations that the first Mindstorms software had, they quickly climbed behind their keyboards and started writing their own custom software. (Luckily LEGO learned from them, and improved the system, cooperating with the creative minds, instead of keeping everything ‘in house’).
So LEGO is for all ages. From Duplo to Creator Expert and Technic Expert, everyone can build and enjoy the bricks. But, as I have personally discovered, LEGO can go beyond simply being enjoyed. In many cases, LEGO can be used as a therapeutic tool. There are for instance many organisation that offer LEGO Therapy for children with autism. For most children with autism, it’s hard to connect and communicate with someone directly. But it turns out, that when they are building, they are much easier to reach. For instance when they are creating a build, and they need a certain brick. This gives them a reason to interact with the therapist or other participant, in order to obtain that brick. And in doing so, they are improving their skills In communication, collaboration and language. This because there is a need to communicated coming from themselves, rather than being ‘forced’ by a therapist or parent.
In my personal life, I’ve discovered the benefits of LEGO as well. Being autistic myself (specifically Asperger), I found the outside world very confusing and in times frightening. I loved creating my own world with my bricks, where I understood all (social) rules, and could find relaxation. When playing alongside other children with LEGO, I found the same benefits as in the LEGO Therapy. All communicating, something that was difficult for me, had a purpose and clear direction, and there for a lot less stressful.
Later on in life, 10 years ago at 25, my autism, combined with PTSD and burnout, I fell in a deep depression, from which I’m still recovering. LEGO has helped me in a great way to get through this period. In my case, I can honestly say, that LEGO has helped me survive some dark periods. I found that not only building, but also activities like sorting are a great way of anxiety-release. My head is a constant chaos of shouting thoughts, making it hard to find focus and serenity. Building and sorting gives me a point to focus on, drowning out all the other thoughts. No anti-depressant has the same direct effect as a good build, or the sight of sorted bins. And it comes without side-effects, besides from being a somewhat expensive. Luckily bricks are reusable (or rebrickable if you will… ;-). Being an admin here on Rebrickable also helps me a lot. It gives me a sense of purpose (being unemployed is not great for your self-esteem), and brings me in contact with other AFOLs. LEGO is a driving force in social interaction, both here and on Facebook. I’ve even found a Facebook group with all sorts of people with one thing in common: LEGO Saved My Life!
During my (ongoing) recovery one organisation has been of great help to me, and I would like to tell you more about them. The organisation is called Unbrickable. The main goal of this organisation is to help and guide youth that encounters problems due to for instance autism and ADD. They provide a save working environment, where they are trained in fields like communication skills, cooperation, standing up for yourself, handling feedback, taking initiative and responsibilities. All this so they have the necessary skills to find a job in the ‘real’ world. I strongly support this mission, because this is a very important strategy to avoid problems in the future, like burnouts and depressions and unemployment. So basically Unbrickable wants to make sure, that all what I have gone through, does not happen to anyone else.
This organisation is self-funded. It consists of a BrickLink and BrickOwl store, and a department that designs custom LEGO sets, and turns company logos into a LEGO version. This creates the employment opportunities for the employees. The work consists of activities like sorting, order picking, design and assembling and/or packaging the custom sets.
I came into the organization looking for a place where I can slowly pick up more activities, to get out of the house into new surroundings, and work with my favourite toy: LEGO! They provided me with a place, and now every Saturday I come in to do some sorting, building and checking of 2nd hand sets on missing parts before they go into the store.
One of the most fun activities for me was helping with the build of 63 identical train wagon designed along with a locomotive for a company called Strukton, that does maintenance work in railroads. The initial design was for the company only, but Unbrickable is currently doing a crowdfunding to make this design into a commercial set. Please check out this project and help with the mission!