Autism Awareness, Exceptional Minds Now at Work in Companies

Alex Knight, 2016 Exceptional Minds Graduate

While autism is changing family dynamics across the nation at an alarming rate, it is also impacting the workplace - often for the better as one Exceptional Minds graduate proves.

What a difference a year makes. As Autism Awareness Month once again gets underway, Stan Cassio and his employees at New Edit in Burbank, California, marvel at how up-close and personal autism has become over the past year.  

It was just six months ago that the small media company of 45 employees hired Alex Knight, a 2016 graduate of Exceptional Minds vocational school for young adults on the autism spectrum who has changed their work environment for the better.  

Developing soft skills is often the most challenging aspect of autism, but the good news is that those skills are very much teachable.

Ernie Merlán, Executive Director, Exceptional Minds

 “We heard about Exceptional Minds through an associate and as soon as we met Alex, we knew he’d be a good fit,” said Stan Cassio, the CEO of New Edit and media distribution entity Mango, where Alex started as a Linear Tape-Open (LTO) operator in September.

Alex works fulltime managing original camera and sound content for television series such as Empire, The Last Man On Earth, 24, and Rosewood, a job that requires technical skills as well as close collaboration with coworkers and clients. “Developing soft skills is often the most challenging aspect of autism, but the good news is that those skills are very much teachable. That is a huge part of the Exceptional Minds curriculum and why the overwhelming majority of our graduates with moderate to high functioning autism are working today,” said Ernie Merlán, Exceptional Minds Executive Director.

Exceptional Minds graduates have gone on to work for studios such as Marvel and have done visual effects and end-titles for movies such as Doctor Strange and The Shack, as well as visual effects for Game of Thrones plus worked on animation for Sesame Street.  

Individuals with autism are often technically proficient and possess an almost superhuman attention to detail, although stereotypical characteristics such as social isolation make it difficult for many on the spectrum to achieve successful employment. Thanks to organizations such as the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF), which gave Exceptional Minds a $75,000 grant earlier this year to expand the non-profit’s work readiness and job placement program, young adults like Alex are able to enter the workforce fully prepared for a future of meaningful employment.

The school’s comprehensive work readiness program includes job placement as well as coaching in attitude, self-management, problem solving and conflict resolution, and also prepares companies for successful employment of an Exceptional Minds graduate.

“We are really blessed to have Alex,” said Chris Ackerman, the LTO and Vault Manager for Mango and Alex’s immediate supervisor. “He required minimal training and it’s rare that I’ll find an error. That last part is so important because we archive original content filmed on the set and if we lose footage, it’s gone forever,” he explained.

Alex not only proved to have an aptitude for the work, according to Cassio, “He’s become an important part of my family here.”

“He’s got a great sense of humor,” agreed Ackerman. “There are few days that I don’t find myself with a big smile on my face due to something impetuously hysterical that has come out of Alex’s mouth… I am also up to date on who is winning (and losing) the baseball games!”   

“This is the best job and that means a lot to me,” commented Alex.

More than 3.5 million Americans live with autism, an estimated 90 percent of whom are unemployed or underemployed. Each year, 50,000 children with autism in the U.S. will turn 18 and require public services if they are not employed. Exceptional Minds provides customized education in the digital arts to over 225 teens and young adults and provides ongoing job placement and coaching for 25 graduates.

Source: Exceptional Minds