Exceptional Year for Young Adults with Autism at Exceptional Minds Digital Arts Academy

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What a difference a year makes for one special vocational school, where students with autism worked on the blockbuster film American Hustle and moved into new digs due to support from the movie industry and others.

Exceptional Minds vocational school for young adults on the autism spectrum

I think we will look back on 2013 as a transformational year for us, thanks to our many supporters who are opening new doors for young people with autism.

Exceptional Minds digital arts academy for young adults on the autism spectrum is heading into the New Year with record enrollment, a new high-tech facility, and a surge of support from the movie industry, including student film credit for work on the blockbuster film American Hustle.

“I think we will look back on 2013 as a transformational year for us, thanks to our many supporters who are opening new doors for young people with autism,” said Yudi Bennett, who helped co-found Exceptional Minds in 2011 and has seen it grow from a small, fledgling vocational program to a global phenomenon now preparing its first graduating class for meaningful careers in movie post-production and animation.

Adobe Systems, Tom Hanks, DreamWorks Animation, Method Studios, ShadowMachine, MelroseMac, Autism Speaks, The California Community Foundation, The New York Community Foundation, The Riordan Foundation, Bob Stevenson, Neil Young and others have contributed their time and money to the nonprofit vocational school to help meet demand for job skills training in the autism community.

Currently, an estimated 90 percent of individuals with autism are unemployed or underemployed.

“They’re clearly talented. They just need to work,” said actor Ed Asner, in a new video released by the school this month. Asner is on the Exceptional Minds advisory board; his son and grandson are on the spectrum.

With career training its overriding goal, Exceptional Minds moved into a new high-tech facility in 2013 with blue-screen room for Chroma keying, a theatrical lighting and staging room, and a new working studio for Exceptional Minds graduates to begin contract work for companies and movie studios. The new facility enabled the school to double its enrollment with students arriving from as far as away as Singapore. Exceptional Minds is the first and only school of its kind to train young men and women with autism for Adobe and other software certifications considered to be the gold standard in the digital visual effects industry. Combining classroom instruction by industry professionals, work readiness training and technical certification with a high instructor-to-student ratio, Exceptional Minds is also the only digital arts vocational school of its kind to provide its students with hands-on, in-field experience.

Four Exceptional Minds students and one instructor received film credit for their visual effects and other post-production work on Sony’s American Hustle movie, a project that took place over a five-week period in addition to the students’ full time course load. Exceptional Minds students also worked on the 2012 movie Lawless, adding real work experience that is difficult to come by in the movie industry -- for those with or without autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

In 2012, the Exceptional Minds board of directors detailed an aggressive 12-year expansion plan. The school is expected to provide a blueprint for other vocational schools serving individuals with ASD in related industries.

Exceptional Minds will graduate its first class of eight students in 2014. Its new video chronicles the school’s successes as it enters the New Year. The 501(c) (3) charitable organization starts 2014 with a large waiting list of young adults on the spectrum wanting to enroll in its three-year program, and the support of a wide variety of organizations and people who generously donate their time and money to preparing young people with autism for meaningful careers. All donation details are on the school’s website.

About Exceptional Minds (http://www.exceptionalmindsstudio.org): Exceptional Minds is a non-profit vocational center and working production studio for young adults on the autism spectrum. It was chartered in 2011 to provide the training necessary for creatively-gifted individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) who may not otherwise be able to make the transition from high school to careers. Exceptional Minds offers technical proficiency and work readiness training that prepares 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.

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