California Vocational School Provides Model For How to Train America’s Autistic Young Adults

As more and more people are faced with the challenges of ASD, parents, guardians, caretakers, and educators must keep in mind Dr. Temple Grandin’s prophetic words, “There needs to be a lot more emphasis on what a child can do instead of what he cannot do.” That’s where Exceptional Minds comes in.

Exceptional Minds, a vocational school based in Sherman Oaks, California, just completed its fourth academic year, and last spring, the school’s first class graduated. The institution’s mission is, “To provide individuals on the Autism Spectrum with customized instruction and hands on experience to earn a living in the fields of multi-media, computer animation and post production.”


ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, but is almost five times more common among boys than among girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC estimates that about 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). More people than ever before are being diagnosed with ASD. It is unclear exactly how much of this increase is due to a broader definition of ASD and better efforts in diagnosis.”

In a 2014 press release, Exceptional Minds’ vice principal Shish Aikat shares,“Our goal is to create a lifetime of learning, and it all starts with this very symbiotic relationship between the training and the actual work itself.” That same press release reveals, “the nation’s 750,000 young adults with autism who will age out of the school system in the next decade.”

The school’s full-time vocational program includes technical training, job readiness instruction, and teamwork experience. The school boasts a student-to-teacher ratio of four students to every one teacher, to increase individual direction and oversight. Films Exceptional Minds’ students have had the opportunity to work on include Avengers: Age of Ultron, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, American Hustle, and Lawless. Additionally, Exceptional Minds offers summer programs and private lessons for ASD students.

ASD organizations and businesses across the country have recognized the incredible efforts of Exceptional Minds. In May 2015, Exceptional Minds received the Community Visionary Award at the Autism Works Now event in Los Angeles. Last August, online jewelry retailer Trumpet & Horn hosted a fundraiser for Exceptional Minds, due to the lack of funding the school and other autism programs receive.

According to world-renowned Autism expert, Ricki Robinson, M.D., “Exceptional Minds is by far the most creative post-secondary program for individuals with ASD that I have ever experienced. The young adults are mentored to develop their interests in computer animation and visual effects while working in teams that foster relationships among like-minded individuals, thus creating a future and meaningful life for each and everyone. Exceptional Minds taps into not only their creativity but their beauty, individuality, empathy that binds them together through their sharing and work and mutual respect. These are life lessons that support all they wish for themselves as they build their own lives and futures.”

Truly, Exceptional Minds is setting the standard for vocational educations for ASD patients in their twenties. Harnessing their students’ creativity and brilliance while training them to be an integral component in a variety of industries, Exceptional Minds is innovating education for those with autism.