The Inclusion Factor and Autism

Walking Cycle created by Matthew Rade during Exceptional Minds Summer Workshop 2020

By Benjamin Maixner
Exceptional Minds Director of Programs
Behavior Analyst (MA ABA, BCBA)

Imagine you’re at a party. This party is not your party or your friend’s party, but your friends’ friends from work, party. You happen to arrive a little early and your friend seems to be running late. 
You are familiar with some of the names, but definitely not the faces. The longer you are there the more awkward it feels. You can feel that people are sensing your panic and they start to look you over, but no one comes to talk to you. It’s not that you’re not unwelcome, no one is going to kick you out, but you weren’t exactly invited.

Now take a second to imagine that this anxious and lonely moment lasts for the rest of your life. That’s how one person on the spectrum described to me what it is like to have autism.

Autism affects many aspects of daily living, the most likely well-known of which is social skill deficits. While social interactions can be difficult for many on the spectrum and work can be done to improve those social skills, this is separate from the issue of inclusion, which is just as vital to the health and well-being of this population as any other.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in preparing men and women with autism for competitive careers in the entertainment industry, it’s that vocational and behavioral training alone will not resolve the unemployment crisis facing young people with autism. Arming these individuals with technical and artistic skills to succeed will help with workforce integration, but the civil rights movements have taught us that integration is very different from acceptance and inclusion. We need to move beyond workforce integration to establish a culture that supports expectations of success and independence for this population.  

Created by Gabriel Harbison during Exceptional Minds Summer Workshop 2020 
Meaningful participation and acceptance matter. Belonging is at the very core of what it means to be a human being and it is a powerful motivator for all of us, individuals with autism included. It’s why we at Exceptional Minds focus on developing career goals and expectations rather than simply focusing on getting a job. Our vocational curriculum doesn’t simply target assimilation into the workplace, but rather, we teach our students to take initiative and to work toward inclusive participation in the workplace culture. This is a meaningful step to positively shaping their self-perception and building their self-confidence. Our hope is that as they raise their expectations, they will rise to meet them and others will see them as role models and be inspired to do the same.

It’s been our experience that while money is important, it is not always what is most valued by our students and graduates with respect to employment. I was reminded of this during a conversation with an Exceptional Minds graduate who had just started a job at Marvel Studios. I asked him what motivated him. Was it the money or the independence it gave him? He said he was excited to be a part of Marvel, to be at the epicenter of pop culture, and to know before all his friends how Avengers would defeat Thanos.
In other words, he was excited to have gone from being the bystander to the guy that everyone wanted to talk to at the party.

His and others’ individual successes not only address the unemployment crisis from a numbers perspective but also blazes the trail forward for others to follow. 

Exceptional Minds is a professional training academy and working studio for young adults on the autism spectrum. We are a 501(3)(c) nonprofit organization based out of Los Angeles, CA that specializes in training young adults with autism spectrum disorder for meaningful careers in post-production and digital animation. Subscribe to our Newsletter here.

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