Exceptional Minds Digital Arts Academy Prepares Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum for Careers
Exceptional Minds digital arts academy for young adults on the autism spectrum has gone from zero to 100 students in two years – some still attending fulltime, others as part-time or summer workshop students and all on the autism spectrum and preparing for lifelong careers in animation and post-production.
For every student that has walked through the doors at Exceptional Minds, the first vocational school of its kind to address the unique needs of this population, there is a story of ambition, talent and wanting to fit in.
Twenty-one-year-old Lloyd entered the Exceptional Minds program with his share of ASD symptoms, making it difficult for him to stay on task and handle social interactions. Today, he is in his second year at Exceptional Minds as a full-time student. He is known for his rich Disney castle renderings and is now the most proficient student at rotoscoping for converting movies from 2D to 3D, a process that takes intense concentration. His ability to attend to the details of rotoscoping (which are many) has astounded even his instructors.
Then there’s Kevin, a young Hispanic on the spectrum who has found direction and meaning through animation and graphic arts. Today, he is one of Exceptional Minds’ most creative animators, known for his trademark game The Misadventures of Salsa Joe in which gamers try to rack up burrito points.
Danny, too, has changed the course of his life because of Exceptional Minds. He grew up in affluent Los Angeles, the son of famous Dodger pitcher and now pitching coach for the Angels, Jim Gott. He was more likely to be bullied than befriended as a youth, like so many on the autism spectrum. Today, he is a bright, vibrant young man who greets visitors with a warm smile and a quirky bow. He is known affectionately as the Ambassador of Communications at Exceptional Minds. (See his animated work here.)
David also found a home at Exceptional Minds, after years of floundering at college, studying courses that were never relevant to his world. An observant and curious student, with a great sense of humor, David is known for his love of penguins (see his video animation) and mentorship to other students.
There is a success story for each of the 100 students who have walked through the doors of Exceptional Minds in the last two years, some from far away. (One family pulled up roots in Hawaii and moved to California specifically so their daughter, who had struggled with traditional education in the past, could get the training she needed at Exceptional Minds.)
Established in 2011 by visionaries in the film and visual effects industries to create a bridge between high school and the working world for those living with autism spectrum disorders, Exceptional Minds is now a model for achieving life-long skills critical to the employability of individuals with autism.
It has hammered out the tools and the structure for what is required, including individualized attention to students (see their animated tribute to the man who modeled this approach, T. Berry Brazelton) and a proven curriculum that fits the unique way this community learns as well as instructors and staff who are trained in dealing with ASD behavior. “We are breaking waves here every day. If we run into a problem, we seek out experts who can help us and we don’t stop until we find a solution. It’s really as simple as that,” said Yudi Bennett, Director of Operations for Exceptional Minds, which broke ground on a new facility at 13400 Riverside Drive in Sherman Oaks last month that will double its capacity, marking the start of an ambitious, three-phase expansion beginning with larger classrooms and a new working studio that will operate separate from the school.
Exceptional Minds digital arts academy is currently the only vocational school of its kind to provide professional Adobe certification training needed for its students to gain entry into the workforce. It’s also the only such school with an on-campus Adobe testing center so students aren’t required to adjust to a new environment every time they go for testing, which is often a painful experience for many on the spectrum. Doing so made it possible to more accurately measure their proficiency in the actual subject or technical application being tested so students could attain the professional certification needed for employment in their chosen field.
This and other practical solutions addressing the special needs of the autism population has made Exceptional Minds a model example for other vocational schools wanting to instill the same kind of success in their students.
About Exceptional Minds
Exceptional Minds is a non-profit vocational center and working production studio for young adults on the autism spectrum. Chartered in 2011 to provide the training necessary for visually-gifted individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) who may not otherwise be able to make the transition from high school to the working world, Exceptional Minds offers technical proficiency and work readiness skills that prepare students for careers in graphic arts, animation, web design, visual effects and rotoscoping. Located in Sherman Oaks, California, Exceptional Minds is both an instructional learning facility and a working studio with hands-on student involvement in production projects, many for the film industry.