Boy With Autism Wins Animation Award For 2nd Time

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Young PK Keith of Val­ley Vil­lage, Cal­i­for­nia, who was diag­nosed with autism spec­trum dis­or­der at age two, and whose bud­ding inter­est in ani­ma­tion and film was evi­dent at an early age, received a Best Ele­men­tary School Ani­ma­tion award Sun­day from Inter­na­tional Stu­dent Film Fes­ti­val Hol­ly­wood in recog­ni­tion of his ani­mated short Ani­mal Birth­day Party.

Ten-year-old PK, who attends tutor­ing at Excep­tional Minds voca­tional school for youth with autism, won in the same cat­e­gory in last year’s ISFFH fes­ti­val, an annual event open to all ele­men­tary, junior high and high school stu­dents that rec­og­nizes young film­mak­ers from around the world. The short was selected along with more than 65 oth­ers for screen­ing at the ISFFH film fes­ti­val, which took place Sat­ur­day and Sun­day at Bev­erly Garland’s The­ater in North Hol­ly­wood, California.

Some peo­ple don’t know until after grad­u­at­ing from col­lege what they want to do. PK has always wanted to be an ani­ma­tor. Even before he could talk, he’d go through reams and reams of paper, draw­ing and lay­ing out his sto­ry­boards on the floor. This is his thing,” says mom Mol­lie Burns Keith, who enrolled PK in pri­vate tutor­ing ses­sions at Excep­tional Minds over the sum­mer to develop her son’s skills and pre­pare him for even­tual employ­ment as an animator.

PK orig­i­nated the Flash ani­ma­tion with tutor­ing and instruc­tion from Laura Robin­son and other instruc­tors at Excep­tional Minds, a Sher­man Oaks, Cal­i­for­nia voca­tional school for young adults on the autism spec­trum who aspire to become ani­ma­tors and com­puter artists. Started last year by pro­fes­sion­als in the post-production and film indus­try, and instructed by work­ing ani­ma­tors with the help of experts expe­ri­enced in autism devel­op­men­tal issues, Excep­tional Minds is being lauded as the poster child for what’s next for young adults with ASD, many of whom are under­em­ployed or unem­ployed, yet who demon­strate an apti­tude for com­puter ani­ma­tion and tech­nol­ogy in general.

PK is one more exam­ple of what these young and tal­ented indi­vid­u­als can do given the right tools, the right instruc­tion and the space to do it,” says Yudi Ben­nett, the direc­tor of oper­a­tions for Excep­tional Minds, and the par­ent of a young adult on the autism spectrum.

The Inter­na­tional Stu­dent Film Fes­ti­val Hol­ly­wood is in its 10th year as a venue “where the next gen­er­a­tion of film­mak­ers show­case their work,” plac­ing PK among an elite and esteemed group of young aspir­ing talent.

At the fes­ti­val, the Grand Jury Award went to Shaun Seong-young Kim of USC for the ani­mated Hu’s Game. The award for Best Ani­ma­tion was given to fel­low USC stu­dent Wen Huang for The Sev­enth Star.

Named Best High School Ani­ma­tion was Snub-nosed Elf, directed by Chi Keung Wong of Hong Kong’s Yung Yau Col­lege. It was writ­ten by Ngo Yin Ip and Man Ho Wan. Chak Fung Ip, also of Yung Yau Col­lege, won Best Junior High School Ani­ma­tion for Make a Dif­fer­ence, writ­ten by Ka Yung Che­ung and Wing Hang Chan.

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