Autism and the 2019 Oscars: Neurodiversity Efforts in the Film Industry

Oscar StatueDid you know that several of the Oscar-nominated movies this year were perfected by a small group of young adults with autism hired by Marvel Studios and others through a California-based nonprofit training program called Exceptional Minds?

Did you know that Kennedy Krieger Institute, through its CORE Foundations and Project SEARCH programs, works with youth transitioning to adulthood and adults with disabilities? The goal is to help participants apply the skills they’ve learned toward securing gainful employment. Staff members offer support to each individual and business for successful, sustainable and integrated employment for all abilities.

Did you know there will be a national conference for human resource and other corporate and nonprofit professionals on November 7 and 8, 2019, at the BWI Airport Marriott (details at KennedyKrieger.org/Neurodiversity)? The conference will focus on neurodiversity hiring and how to successfully incorporate a neurodiverse talent pool into the workplace.

Impact at the Oscars

Exceptional Minds, located in Sherman Oaks, California, is a relatively new (founded in 2011) nonprofit vocational center and working production studio that successfully trains and places young men and women with autism in careers. Originally incorporated by parents of young adults with autism, it offers technical proficiency and work-readiness training that prepares its students for careers in graphic arts, animation, web design and visual effects. The nonprofit’s job placement rate is more than 70 percent, based on graduates from the class of 2017 working in the fields of visual effects and animation.

Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the United States. Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, a majority of individuals with disabilities in the U.S. today are unemployed. People with autism often possess extraordinary attention to detail, advanced visual recall and highly developed creative gifts—like retaining an encyclopedic catalog of every character in the Marvel universe. This makes some young adults with autism especially suited to work on Marvel film stories.

Visual effects artists trained by Exceptional Minds have worked on such films as “Black Panther,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Ant-Man,” “Thor,” “The Avengers” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” as well as on television shows, most recently “The Good Doctor.” At the recent August 2018 Palm Springs International Animation Festival, Exceptional Minds presented four uniquely creative and original animated shorts produced by its students. The animated shorts made the cut of 250 accepted films out of the more than 2,700 festival submissions.

“This population seems to be a natural fit for animation,” says Howie Hoffman, creative director of Exceptional Minds. “A lot of those with autism understand at a very gut level this idea of a parallel universe that is similar, but quirkier, to our reality, and they are able to develop unique animated content based on that imaginary world.”

Kennedy Krieger’s CORE Foundations and Project SEARCH Programs

CORE Foundations and Project SEARCH provide training in employability skills to support successful employment for young adults with disabilities.

Project SEARCH, located at the Institute’s Broadway campus, is a transition program for young adults (ages 18 to 24) transitioning from school to work. It provides hands-on job training through integrated worksite rotations (three unpaid internships during a 10-month period), career exploration and mentoring.

CORE Foundations is a Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration-approved adult service that develops a customized program in partnership with each individual to support independence in employment, life and leisure. CORE stands for Community, Opportunity, Respect and Employment.

Kennedy Krieger’s Neurodiversity Conference

November 7–8, 2019, BWI Airport Marriott
An exciting conference is available this November. It represents an opportunity for companies, large and small, to learn how to optimize their workforce. More than 200 industry and community leaders, nonprofit advocates and community parents will gather to hear national speakers and learn more about the logistics and benefits of employing neurodiverse talent.

Kennedy Krieger’s more than 80 years of experience in treating, educating and working with individuals with neurodiverse traits makes it uniquely positioned to provide support and information to businesses and organizations looking to employ a neurodiverse staff, and to promote the hiring of individuals with neurodiverse traits as they enter the workforce. Visit KennedyKrieger.org/Neurodiversity for more information.