2022 Grants Challenge

Autism Inclusivity in the Entertainment and Digital Arts Industry

Exceptional Minds is a nonprofit provider of job training and career placement for young people with autism. Our comprehensive program offers opportunities for individuals at every stage of their career, from early training to developing job skills, to finding and sustaining employment in digital arts. Help us empower young people with autism to achieve their full artistic and professional potential, increasing the pipeline of diverse new talent into the entertainment industry.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Access to Creative Industry Employment (sponsored by Snap Foundation)

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

County of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

Each year, 1/44 children are diagnosed and apx130,000-190,000 individuals with autism live in LA County. All ethnic and socioeconomic groups are affected, minority groups tend to be diagnosed later, and less often. Those with autism are extremely smart, IQ scores in the above-average range. They are visual thinkers who see connections, patterns at a high level, and better long-term memories than neurotypicals. Despite this, they struggle to find employment. People with disabilities face employment challenges, but those with autism have the lowest employment level. Half of all 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job. When they do have opportunities, the interview, which rewards social and communication skills, can be challenging, giving candidates an unfair disadvantage. Implications of social isolation go beyond work. When loneliness sets in, the health costs are severe. Loneliness is associated with mental health, placing them at risk for suicidal ideation.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

Luckily, mental wellbeing can be improved through social connection. While Exceptional Minds is primarily a job training program, the importance of creating community along the way cannot be understated. EM's Academy, is a full-time professional training program, where young people recieve training in in an array of professional software tools, as well as in portfolio creation, interviewing, and career planning – all developed to capitalize on participants’ unique strengths, and meet their own unique career interests and goals. The Academy is a three-year, full time commitment. EM offers employment services to ensure that participants can transition smoothly into roles with outside employers. We assist on both sides of the worker/employer relationship, creating a customized program that specifically addresses the employee’s needs while also meeting the Employer’s expectations. Services provided include employer education, job coaching, technical remediation, vocational support, and behavioral support. EMs' Studio is the center for all in-person training programs and paid work performed by trainees, with divisions for Visual Effects, Animation, and 3D. Graduates work in paid positions, while sharpening their skills for outside employment. Clients have included (to name just a few) Marvel, Nickelodeon, Sony, Cartoon Network, Netflix, HBO, Apple+, and Amazon, on titles such as Black Widow, Star Wars, Lion King, the Avengers, Spiderman, Black Panther, the Special Olympics.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

EM is the nexus of diversity, equity, and inclusion within workforce development in the Industry. We will continue to break down barriers for young people with autism, thus shifting the paradigm and stigma associated with autism. Delivering a workforce prepared with the skills needed to obtain careers with upward mobility in the Entertainment Industry. While simultaneously providing the ongoing resources employers need to create a conducive work environment, resulting in transformation change. EM will help our industry partners by creating diverse teams with broader perspectives which in turn generate a better product.Not only by providing LA's autistic artists with careers but a sense of belonging and purpose. In addition, LA's industry will simultaneously benefit from this inclusion. When our artists' sense of acceptance is merged with diversity initiatives, our partners find their team members have a newfound sense of emotional intelligence and better communication skills.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

There are many layers to creating the symbiotic relationship between autistic artists and employers. Exceptional Minds measures both tangible and intangible benefits for both our students and employers. Through anecdotal evidence collected via student interviews, we found that the EM Academy and Studio programs create a sense of community, which helps to assuage challenges beyond employment: social phobias, avoidance, and loneliness. Through collaboration with potential employers EM aligns our career readiness training with the skills needed to perform jobs. These relationships not only guide our curriculum but also provide internship and mentorship programs available to 100% of EM's students and graduates. Our most important success metric is employment. We are proud that 87% of our graduates have secured a job within the first year of graduation. It is imperative that EM continues to fund our ability to scale in order to provide ongoing support to our graduates and employers.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 240

Indirect Impact: 3,000