At the end of May I had the opportunity to attend the Lighthouse Union’s blogger event in Cookridge, Leeds. Celebrating the opening of their new cafe/store, linked to Lighthouse Union school, we were in for an evening of prosecco, shopping and speed friending.
Yes, that’s a bit like speed dating but with an extra twist. As Lighthouse Union pioneers the employment of individuals with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, we were asked to wear masks of our own faces in order to understand what it is like being unable to read facial expressions and social cues.
This was a lot harder than you would imagine. I had no idea just how exhausting this disorder could be! Around only 7% of conversation is actually what is being said, which we learnt all too quickly. I found myself straining to hear what my speed friending partners were saying, placing much more emphasis on tone of voice and waiting to see who would talk next as I was unable to glean social cues from expression. I also had to sit on my hands as I was trying to make up for lack of expression with gestures and didn’t realise just how much I focused on lip reading when talking to others – even with my hearing aids in I was finding understanding people very difficult.
So as you can imagine dealing with all of this under the stress of an interview situation would not only be exhausting but wouldn’t translate to a brilliant first impression for the interviewer. Something that has become all too clear to Lighthouse Union who are creating innovative partnerships with employers to allow these young people to work towards a better, more independent future.
The families that set up Lighthouse Union school are continually working towards improving the number of individuals with ASD in employment (currently as low as only 15%!). They believe that by focussing on the talents, strengths and interests of these young people and aligning employment experiences for them, as society does for main school children, they can greatly improve the percentage of people in appropriate employment. I have to say I’m definitely inclined to agree.
The Lighthouse Union store is the first in a series of small enterprises set up by the Lighthouse Union Trustees. Designed to bring together the understanding of special needs, education and commercial skills, this store offers a safe and welcoming environment for young people to learn life and work skills.
If all of that wasn’t enough, the store is full of fantastic little gifts, high end second hand clothes and the most delicious cakes and coffee! After the event I came away with three extra bags; my Evolution home decor pieces which I won in the raffle, the most delicious goody bag full of donated treats and a selection of treats for me from the store!
I’d definitely recommend checking out the store or popping in for a coffee and a cake – you definitely won’t regret it.