Why An LA Nonprofit Is Helping People With Autism Get Jobs In Visual Effects

People with autism face a lot of challenges, both in their own behavior and in their interactions with the world. But what if the qualities that made those with autism unique could be turned into strengths? That's the idea behind the non-profit animation studio and digital arts school Exceptional Minds, which works to train and place students with autism in visual effects jobs—jobs where their particular idiosyncrasies make them very good at what they do.

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Turning Challenges Into Strengths

Research published in the AJ Drexel Autism Institute's National Autism Indicators Report showed that only a third of young adults with autism continue their education after high school, and just over half get paying jobs—"a rate far lower than young adults with other types of disabilities," according to the report. Exceptional Minds aims to change those statistics while also morphing students' perceived challenges into strengths. At the LA-based digital arts school, students earn job experience and are paid for their work on a variety of projects, including visual-effects cleanup work, titles, and end credits for the movie industry. Why the movie industry? It's the students' innate qualities— such as a laser focus when mentally engaged—that make them exceptional candidates for animation and VFX work.

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In the case of the film American Hustle, for example, Exceptional Minds students took on often tedious tasks such as rotoscoping, which involves tracing over key frames for color correction and digital manipulation. "This is something that they have an eye for and also the patience for," program director Ernie Merlán told the Los Angeles Daily News. "They love to do it — they can do it all day long." Students have also made significant contributions to films like Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Age of Ultron and TV shows like Game of Thrones and Sesame Street.

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How Exceptional Minds Works

Exceptional Minds exists thanks to a group of parents who were worried about what would happen to their kids post-high school. Thanks to their connections in the film industry, they were able to develop a certification program in post-production work, complete with tailored instruction, hands-on training, lectures from experts in the field, and jaunts to studios where they could see the work they were learning about in action. The school offers workshops throughout the year as well, which focus on everything from digital painting to 2D game design. All the while, a psychologist is on hand to help students develop interpersonal skills and prepare for the rigors of the workplace.

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Written by Curiosity Staff April 14, 2017

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