Media production training for adults with autism

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The students at Exceptional Minds are learning all about digital production, design and animation.

For young people diagnosed on the autism spectrum, growing into adulthood can present its own set of challenges. One local nonprofit organization is trying to help.

The people behind Exceptional Minds recognize the talents of young adults with autism, and help them unlock their potential.

The students at Exceptional Minds are learning all about digital production, design and animation. But the lessons in this classroom go way beyond that.

Their motto? Changing lives, one frame at time.

"That's so true about this program because these kids are learning animation and they're learning rotoscoping and little by little they're changing their lives," said program director Ernie Merlan.

Students there are all on the autism spectrum. They all have different challenges, but one thing unites them: they love to learn.

Merlan, an industry veteran, says their mission is to help these young adults unlock the potential within, but with very real goals in mind, giving students industry-standard training and certification so they can get jobs.

"It turns out that those that actually make it through a year on the job keep that job, because the employer learns the value of that employee and the employee learns how to do the job, and learns how to do it better than anyone else," said Merlan.

Laura Robinson is an Exceptional Minds instructor. She knows the challenges of autism well. She was diagnosed with ASD when she was 2. But by age 12, she already knew she wanted to be an animator.

"I really like working with the students every day," said Robinson. "Every single one of them is different and it's always -- I could be talking with one person and they'll have their own unique works and preferences and all that, but then I'll talk to someone else and it could be the polar opposite."

The precision, creativity and repetitive nature of animation are a good fit for some on the spectrum. In school, many were frustrated and lost confidence. But here they flourish.

Kevin Titcher is part of their first graduating class.

"It's a great atmosphere. The people are great. You'll be treated how you want to be treated," said Titcher.

He's excited about the future and has a lot to look forward to. He's starts work at Stargate Studios soon and can't wait.

"It's going to be great," said Titcher. "I mean, I'm a little nervous but I think nervous like I'm excited, and I can't wait to go there and just do it."

This summer, Exceptional Minds will have a summer program for younger kids, 12 and older, where they'll get a chance to work on projects and actually finish a piece for their portfolio. It's all about recognizing potential and helping young adults with autism reach their goals.

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autismLos Angeles
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