Autism is a common label for people who have difficulties with social interaction and communication. Because of these challenges, those on the autism spectrum have difficulty finding and maintaining employment. However, a promising new model reconsiders these people and their special abilities. Thorkil Sonne has recently become a prominent international advocate for autism. A Danish information technology (IT) professional who learned his own son was autistic, Sonne created Specialisterne, an IT company that would hire intelligent, autistic workers to perform quality assurance (QA) services for client companies. In many of these QA positions, social skills are less important than are abilities of concentration and detailed recall. After proving the concept’s potential, Sonne’s Specialist People Foundation now has a goal of enabling one million jobs for people around the world with autism and similar challenges.
ICOSA’s involvement with this story began when Steve Allen reached out to our publisher, Gayle Dendinger. Within Colorado, Allen has been a leader in educating employers about the benefits of hiring persons with disabilities. The discussion led to encouraging businesses to learn from best practices. Allen contacted Sonne and his foundation to begin making connections for the state of Colorado. Because Colorado fosters a large IT sector, and the initial interest from business community members was high, ICOSA sponsored a stakeholder gathering at the Denver Botanic Gardens where Sonne introduced himself and his ideas. The next step is working with individuals, businesses and foundations that can contribute financially to make the Colorado connection a reality.
The Specialist People Foundation is receiving attention from many companies and governments around the world. Their ideas are valuable for both the autistic individuals and larger society because they help convert previously dependent people into highly productive citizens employed in a well-paying field. During the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of New Champions, Sonne was announced as a 2012 Social Entrepreneur Awardee by the Schwab Foundation. After traveling around the world, Sonne will return to Colorado to continue implementation here in the U.S.