Thursday, July 25, 2019

Exceptional Minds and the Start of Our LA Adventure

The final leg of our drive out west was from Flagstaff to Los Angeles which completed a 2000 mile journey from Chicago. That last leg was rather uneventful, with the only drama coming in trying to find a place for lunch in an area where you could go 70 miles between exits that had restaurants.

We arrived at our destination on Sunday afternoon, and with that, phase 2 of our vacation began. We would be staying in LA for two weeks, as Kai takes a summer workshop at Exceptional Minds.

Exceptional Minds is the first American computer animation studio and non-profit digital arts school for young adults on the autism spectrum. Their full-time program provides technical instruction in the digital arts while fully integrating behavioral training into the curriculum. In addition to teaching skills in visual effects and animation, they also provide work readiness training, job coaching, placements, troubleshooting, and employer education.

In the summer, Exceptional Minds offers teens two-week workshops which provide instruction in the digital arts. Kai is taking an introductory workshop in computer animation. As Kai has a creative side and enjoys silly animated videos, so we thought this would be a good fit and an introduction into something that could potentially be an area that he could pursue as a career.

He was a bit unsure about the whole idea when we introduced it to him last winter, but he warmed up to it more and more as time went on. On the first day of the workshop, he seemed eager to get started on animation.

My wife and I attended a parent orientation. It was very gratifying to hear about how well they prepare their full-time students to get jobs in the film industry. The technical skills their students are taught surpass those of students from universities, and they also provide training in softer skills such as how to find jobs and interview well. Our dream is to have Kai be able to attend the full-time program one day, but as entry into the program is very competitive, this is only a dream at this point.

During the orientation, the behavior psychologists on staff reassured parents about how the entire staff know how to support their students with autism. Still, we were nervous about how well Kai would do here. In the past he has taken weeks to get acclimated to new classrooms or teachers or other new environments.

And so we were very happy when we saw him walk out the first day with a smile on his face. He said he already had started a couple animations and that he had fun.

Now, a few more days in, he still seems very happy, which makes us immensely happy!

While we are in California, I am working remotely from the house we are renting. I get up early to start working no later than 7:00 AM, but that enables me to complete my work day at around 3:00 local time when Kai gets out of his workshop. That has given us time to do some fun things.

The first night we went to dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Studio City called Iroha. My wife and I had really great sushi, while Kai enjoyed ramen (while coincidentally wearing his ramen t-shirt).

The next afternoon, we explored Little Tokyo where Kai resumed his search for Japanese plushes.

We had dinner at a restaurant that specializes in Hiroshima-style okinomiyaki.

This was a treat for us as there are no okinomiyaki restaurants back home, and it is very difficult to make Hiroshima style on your own. Hiroshima okinomiyaki has many layers, and is made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, meat or seafood, and topped with a variety of condiments.

Of course, we also had to have the Japanese shave ice (flavored with matcha, including small mochi balls, and topped with sweet azuki bean paste, and with mochi) for dessert.

The next day we went to Santa Monica, where Kai loved going into the ocean.

He went in pretty far, swimming, splashing, and battling the waves for over an hour.

After the beach, we walked up to the famous Santa Monica Pier and found a casual seafood restaurant for dinner.

The grilled oysters were really tasty. Kai also enjoyed mussels, while my wife had paella and I had a shrimp po boy.

After dinner, Kai and my wife rode a very mild roller coaster on the pier. We missed the sunset but were able to see the afterglow.

And on our latest evening, we went to Universal Citywalk where we browsed shops and had dinner.

It has been a fun time so far. And seeing Kai so happy has made everything that much more enjoyable.

Let's hope that continues.


  1. What a great opportunity for Kai. I hope Kai has his passions ignited. He would be perfect for such an endeavor. I am so happy for him.

    1. It is wonderful that this type of place exists. There are many people with autism who have the talent but can't get the special training they need to get good, enjoyable jobs. It's way too early to see where this will lead with Kai, but we wanted to provide him with the opportunity to see if this would be something he might want to pursue as a career. For now, we're happy that he is enjoying the class.


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