“a lot of the tech companies, all they have to do is look at their back room and know that a lot of the people who work there are probably on the spectrum somewhere, they were just better at navigating the system, or they had different kinds of family supports that made it so they could transition easier to employment.”
Thorkil Sonne was the technical director in an IT company in Denmark when his youngest son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. “That brought me on a discovery tour of how vulnerable many of our citizens are in our communities who do not fit into the mainstream model of ideal student and ideal employee. I learned that despite his disability and his disorder, he had a lot of abilities and he was very ordered but only when he is in his comfort zone.” Sonne said that his son would struggle when out of his comfort zone. He saw this during his child’s education and he foresaw that he would have similar struggles in the workplace when he became an adult.
“Many autistic people, they’re not good at promoting themselves. They may be smart, have good memory, pattern recognition skills, attention to detail, have high precision in repetitive tasks. All these things would be phenomenal for most employers in all business areas. They’re just not getting in the door because the recruiters are looking for other personalities than our autistic population.”
Sonne began to see that the problem didn’t lie with the autistic people themselves but rather with society “so let’s change the society instead of changing autistic people.” Sonne set himself a goal of enabling 1 million jobs for autistic people. Sonne founded Specialisterne with the view to helping employers hire people on the autism spectrum. He and his family relocated to the US 2 ½ years ago in his efforts to help employers like Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and other tech companies to get access to what he describes as a unique and untapped pool of resources “our message is really, we can give companies access to talent that they desperately need.”
In addition to helping with the recruitment process, Specialisterne aims to help employers create an environment that is more accommodating to people who are not neuro-typical. “Many of the life situations that you normally would learn from, start happening when they’ve got a job, because then they’re in a social settings, with co-workers and colleagues. There is a lot of social interaction and you have to find your position. Many of these people have not had very many friends; they have spent much time on their own, so suddenly to be in an environment where there is a lot of things going on. That could create some situations where autistic people may need some guidance.”
Specialisterne works with employers to bring people into their companies because of their autism not despite of their autism. They work with employers to provide accommodations for employees “we encourage employers to provide basic values, respect that we’re all different and that’s good. “Some may have sensibility issues – visual, audio. Some may work 30 hours better than 40 hours, they may produce the same in 30 hours as others would in 40 hours and then we ask to set expectations clearly – say what you mean, mean what you say, don’t use irony, sarcasm and so on. It makes life easier and it creates a friendlier workplace atmosphere not just for the person with autism but for everyone.”
Thorkil esimates that there is an unemployment or under employment rate in the autistic community of around 80%.
Steve Allen, Business Outreach Specialist at the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, is a member of Specialisterne’s Southwest Leadership Team. He reaches out to companies to encourage them to hire people on the spectrum and he says they are getting a lot of positive reaction from potential employers “a lot of the tech companies, all they have to do is look at their back room and know that a lot of the people who work there are probably on the spectrum somewhere, they were just better at navigating the system, or they had different kinds of family supports that made it so they could transition easier to employment.”
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Specialisterne is looking for philanthropists who may want to invest in the company to help them grow in this region, as well as employers who would like to find out more about how to hire autistic people. Find out more here.
Businesses that want more information about hiring people with autism or a foundation that is interested in supporting a pilot program to train people with autism to be ready for the workforce, please call or email Steve Allen at [email protected] or direct at 303-866-4164.
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