Thorkil Sonne is a father from Denmark whose child was diagnosed with autism when he was two and a half years old. The father knew he would most likely struggle to function in a traditional work market as an adult. That’s why he decided to create a company that specializes in helping autistic people to find jobs.
Sonne initially got involved with the Danish Autistic Society. After several years, he became the president of it.
And in 2004, Sonne mortgaged his house so that he could start a company whose aim was providing support for people with autism to find employment. That’s how Specialisterne was created.
Weekend sneak peek: #AshokaFellow Thorkil Sonne talks to The New York Times Magazine about The Autism Advantage:
“We try to get to understand autistic people from a personal business profile angle,” said Sonne via World Economic Forum.
“And we take the time in order to establish the comfort zone of the individual, get to know the motivation, workability, professional skills, personal skills, and we take that knowledge and transfer that to managers in companies in order to set up the right work environment with the manager, the colleagues and HR.
“So we create a base for common understanding and a place where autistic people can excel in the workplace.”
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He adds, “Autistic people can add a lot to workplaces […] and they also create a better work environment […] that creates, really, more of a family atmosphere.”
Specialisterne, which is Danish for “The Specialists,” is representative of how the founder wants people with ADS to be seen in the job market. They can prove themselves as very valuable and skilled workers in a multitude of areas. That is due to their creativity and a strong desire to achieve the best results in their work.
“They are often very good at the work,” says Sonne. “They typically have good memory, attention to detail, persistence, they are hones, direct, loyal.”
According to Sonne, Specialisterne aims to “provide meaningful and productive jobs for one million people with autism.”
An inclusive workforce is a better workforce.📕 Read more: https://wef.ch/2I7KXBW
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People suffering from an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) can vary in symptom severity and functionality. But they commonly present trouble with social skills, communication, and need consistent, repetitive actions.
Surprisingly, autism only stopped being considered a psychiatric illness after 1987; yet, it still has a lot of stigmas attached to it.
That’s in all likelihood why, according to the National Autistic Indicator report, 86 percent of people with ASD are unemployed, and most of them don’t pursue higher education. That is because they seem to struggle with working in teams, receiving feedback, and managing their time.
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The company offers support and training to those with ASD and educates employers on the advantages and skills autistic people can bring to their business. The company aims to create an inclusive working environment where those on the spectrum can focus on their tasks and not worry about social norms and or fear of discrimination.
They also offer a three-year training program that is not only aimed at people with ADS but also those who have ADHD and ADD.
The company itself employs autistic people in roles such as software development and data entry.
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They have received several awards since they were established. They were also featured at the Harvard Business School as a case study.
The founder believes that their working model can apply to many companies across the world, and they recently partnered with some big players such as IBM. The former promised to create over 300 job openings for people with autism.
What started as a family struggling with a child’s diagnosis turned into an effort to better integrate and support those who live with ASD. Specialisterne will continue their efforts in creating a better working environment for those with autism and continue to provide support and training to both employees and employers, and create a better job market in the process.