Youth with Autism Debuts on the Big Screen for Production Work in Movie Lawless, Opening in Theaters Wednesday

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Patrick Brady, a student at Exceptional Minds vocational school and working studio near Hollywood, is shattering the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) glass ceiling of unemployment and underemployment.

When Exceptional Minds student and aspiring animator Patrick Brady was told that his name would appear on the big screen for his work on Weinstein movie Lawless, to open in theaters Wednesday, he didn’t jump up and down or shout for joy.

He didn’t high-five any of his fellow artists, as one might expect. And he certainly didn’t run home and tell his family that he had just received his first movie cred, effectively joining that elite group of working Hollywood at the young age of 21.

But a wisp of a smile did cross his lips before he returned to the small screen at his computer workstation, and that said it all for anyone who knows this superhero -loving, talented animator who often struggles with expressing himself as a young man with autism.

To them, it signaled that Patrick was on his way to becoming more than just another autism statistic. “My dream is to become an animator,” says a soft-spoken Patrick, whose post-production and film animation work at Exceptional Minds vocational school near Hollywood is shattering the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) glass ceiling of unemployment and underemployment.

According to a recent study prepared for the U.S. Department of Education, one in three young adults with autism have no job experience or college or technical training eight years after high school graduation.

The founders of Exceptional Minds, a 501C nonprofit vocational school opened in September 2011, hope to change that for Patrick and others like him. “Most people on the autism spectrum, by the time they reach 18, they fall off the grid,” says Ernie Merlan, program director for Exceptional Minds. “There is some government support for them but no real programs to help them do much, until now.”

Started by the parents and grandparents of autistic children now aging out of the system, Exceptional Minds is the only vocational school of its kind to offer these individuals instructional training in computer animation and special effects as a bridge between high school and the working world.

Part of that training involves real-world work experience doing production for movies such as Lawless, the final credit roll of which Patrick and several other students at Exceptional Minds produced. Through project work, they learn to turn their special kind of genius and ability to hyper-focus into creative expression that is very much valued by the movie industry.
Over the past year, with the computer as his creative canvas, Patrick has been developing his own unique style – and his sense of humor. His animated series of two comic book heroes in relationship counseling is a popular YouTube hit. In one episode, Venom tells Spiderman that “deep down inside you’re an emo,” to which Spiderman counters, “Well, deep down inside you’re Topher Grace!”

For Patrick, who was fascinated with cartoons and showed strong artistic tendencies as a child, getting his first movie credit capped off a year of growth and learning at Exceptional Minds. In early adolescence he developed the gaming bug, even placing at a national gaming convention in June, before he turned his budding interest in animation and Tim Burton films into a career.

Now 21, Patrick lives with his parents and a brother and sister in Hollywood. He rides the metro system to and from the studio every day, and expects to get his driver’s license and have his own place some day. “He wants what every one else wants,“ says his mom, Mayi Brady, who, like other parents of the first wave of kids with autism searched out programs that could provide opportunity, including early speech intervention and “any program-of-the-month that came along, some that worked and some that didn’t.”

Next month, Patrick will start his second year in the Exceptional Minds three-year program. Upon completion of the program he will receive his Adobe (ACA) certification, with the job readiness skills and a professional reel/portfolio that he can use to seek employment in the fields of animation, computer graphics and visual affects.

In the meantime, he’s racking up movie credits along with his fellow students at Exceptional Minds. Lloyd Hackl and Anthony Irvin as well as Exceptional Minds instructor Josh Dagg are listed along with Patrick as titles layout artists in the Lawless credit roll.

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Dee McVicker
Grassroots Communications
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