Autism Speaks’ Peter Bell Talks of Employability and “Phenomenal Talent” at Exceptional Minds Vocational School for Young Adults Living with Autism

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The autism community’s most distinguished voice and advocate for change turned its megaphone on Exceptional Minds vocational school for young adults on the autism spectrum last month when Autism Speaks’ Peter Bell visited the school’s campus in Sherman Oaks, California. “Companies out there are looking for talent like this,” said Bell.

Exceptional Minds vocational school for young adults on the autism spectrum

Most of the world doesn't know yet that there is phenomenal talent (in the autism community)

Peter Bell with Autism Speaks spoke of the employability of individuals with autism during a visit to Exceptional Minds vocational school for young adults on the autism spectrum last month.

“Most of the world doesn’t know yet that there is phenomenal talent here in Sherman Oaks, in this room,“ said Peter Bell to a roomful of eager Exceptional Minds students, who are all young adults on the autism spectrum enrolled in Exceptional Minds’ three-year vocational program and well on their way to pursuing meaningful careers in video animation, film post-production and computer graphics.

“It is incredible how far this program has come,” added Bell, who is the Executive Vice President for Programs and Services for Autism Speaks.

Bell went around the room to shake hands with each of the 15 students and to get a personal demonstration of students’ animations, rotoscope renderings and other post-production projects as part of the curriculum at Exceptional Minds, which was established in 2011 by visionaries in the film and visual effects industry to create a bridge between high school and the working world for individuals living with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Exceptional Minds has gained notoriety as a model for the employability of young adults living with autism; it is the first vocational school of its kind to earn industry-recognized accreditation for its students and to provide them with working experience in the industry, including title work for major motion picture Lawless.

Now entering its second year, the majority of Exceptional Minds students have met or exceeded proficiency requirements for Adobe certification in one or more software applications.

“I am really proud of you guys,” said Bell, who told Exceptional Minds students of his own experiences as the parent of a 20-year-old son who is also living with autism spectrum disorders and who is also a talented artist. “I’m very proud that this is an organization that Autism Speaks decided to support,” he added, referring to a $25,000 grant awarded by Autism Speaks in 2012 to help bolster the vocational school’s training and job development program.

Almost a million youth on the spectrum are expected to age out of the school system in the next ten years, even as few programs exist preparing them for careers. According to a recent study prepared for the U.S. Department of Education, one in three young adults with autism lack job experience and college or technical training eight years after high school graduation.

Exceptional Minds vocational school, a 501(c) (3) charitable organization, plans to expand its facility to accommodate a growing student population expected to double every three years.

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Yudi Bennett

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