SHERMAN OAKS, Calif., May 21, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- It was a cause celebre for Exceptional Minds at last night's Autism Works Now event held at Club Nokia, Los Angeles, where singers, dancers, professionals and Hollywood notables came together to shine a very bright light on jobs for individuals with autism and the people who are making it happen.
"We're not just preparing them for jobs. We're preparing them for a very competitive industry and, in fact, our graduates are working in the visual effects industry," said Ernie Merlan, Program Director for Exceptional Minds, which received the Community Visionary Award at last night's event put on by Autism Works Now in partnership with Autism Movement Therapy and attended by more than 600 people.
Merlan joined Exceptional Minds' Director of Operations Yudi Bennett on the stage at Club Nokia to accept the school's Community Visionary Award. The award was presented to the two by Bennett's son Noah Schneider, who is on the spectrum and is now in his second year at Exceptional Minds, the first and only vocational school to prepare and successfully place young adults with autism in careers in the fields of animation and visual effects.
Like Noah, the performers and speakers at the event demonstrated a wide variety of skills capable of the autism population and included dancers, a rapper, a makeup artist and an animal scientist who has become a celebrity in the autism world. "There's too much emphasis on disability. We need to get out there and show what we can do," said the iconic Dr. Temple Grandin, the headline speaker at the event and whose autism self-advocacy has earned her a place among "Time" magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World."
The evening featured musical guest James Durbin, who is also on the spectrum, as well as Criminal Minds actor Joe Mantegna, whose daughter Mia is on the spectrum and was the makeup artist for the performers there. Wayne Fogelson with LA/USD Miller Career and Transition Center was also commended – as was actor Ed Asner and his son, Matt Asner.
"The fact that 50,000 young people (with autism) turn 18 every year and two years later, less than half of them are employed, that's a horrible figure," said Ed Asner, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the event. "I have a son and grandson who are autistic, and these are beautiful people. They should be leading the world because of their depth and beauty, truth and honesty. The more we employ that, (the better)," he said. Asner is on the Exceptional Minds advisory board and is an outspoken advocate for autism along with his son Matt Asner, who is Autism Speaks' Executive Director for Southern California.
More than 3.5 million Americans are living with an autism spectrum disorder, with one in 68 children now being diagnosed (up from one in 88 just 2 years ago); more than 500,000 U.S. children impacted by the disorder will enter adulthood during this decade. Autism services cost U.S. citizens over $200 billion each year. Changing the global perception of the employability of individuals with autism is an enormous task, requiring employer education and skills training.
Exceptional Minds is a pioneer in providing vocational training in the fields of animation and visual effects and a model for other vocational programs. All Exceptional Minds students are on the spectrum and acquire the software and other skills required for animation, rotoscoping, digital cleanup, green screen compositing and other types of visual effects.
Currently, there are no comparable programs in the U.S. and a shortage of customized vocational training programs that teach the required technical and social skills needed for individuals with autism to succeed in the workplace. According to Merlan, many people with autism have superior attention to detail and proficiency with computer-based technology. These abilities make the fields of computer animation and visual effects a particularly good fit.
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. 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 the working world, a population that faces 90% unemployment. 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.
SOURCE Exceptional Minds