Founded in 2011, Exceptional Minds is a vocational school with a difference. Based in Sherman Oaks, CA, the digital arts school and studio educates autistic adults for careers in media and entertainment. That goal may be lofty, but it is hardly theoretical — in spring 2016, Exceptional Minds graduated its first class of students, some of whom are already working at Hollywood facilities. Others have joined Exceptional Minds' own digital studio, which has completed jobs on projects including Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
It's a big step for people that are in many cases marginalized. "We have a guy who was working at Albertson's [grocery]," says Exceptional Minds Executive Director Ernie Merlan. "They told him he'd never make it past Albertson's. He came to us for three years, and now he's working at Stargate Studios."
Bourree Lam reports at The Atlantic:
Interest in what’s called neurodiversity is growing at American companies. This year, the accounting firm EY (formerly known as Ernst & Young) has been piloting a program to employ people with autism in order to explore the benefits of having workers of different cognitive abilities, such as greater productivity and building a more talented workforce.
[Prof. Rob] Austin explained that the push for neurodiversity in the workplace has Danish origins. Thorkil Sonne, a Danish telecom worker, was the instigator for bringing people with autism into the professional space. Sonne’s own son has autism and he founded the company Specialisterne in 2004 with the specific aim of employing people with autism and preparing them for the workforce. Employees at Specialisterne were high-functioning autistic people who were offered jobs in the IT and technology space.
“At some point, Thorkil wasn't making enough impact. He had 75 or so people employed, but he wanted to employ a million people with autism. So he changed his model, and started trying to convince big companies to do it,” says Austin. One of these companies was SAP, a huge software company, which hired people with autism to do software testing and analytics. The company now employs over 100 people on the autism spectrum, and that program served as a case study by Austin and his colleague Gary Pisano of Harvard Business School.
Two other companies that have been taking the lead on this are HP Enterprises (via an initiative called the Dandelion program in Australia) and Microsoft. In the SAP case study, the company found employees who had advanced degrees and patents in their names, but still weren’t able to land corporate jobs. Austin says that the talent is there, but often missed because of the over-reliance on the interview process or the lack of flexibility on the part of companies. And now, the interest in these workers, which began in the tech industry, seems to be spreading to other industries and job functions as well.Benjamin Raven reports at MLive:
After a successful pilot period, Ford Motor Co. has expanded a hands-on program to give people with autism the chance to gain work experience with the Dearborn automaker.
The FordInclusiveWorks Autism Program looks to match participants with skills and that fit their capabilities and evaluates them for potential future employment opportunities.
The program is funded by the Autism Alliance of Michigan.