Meet our Nordic Fellow Thorkil Sonne
Thorkil Sonne is the founder of Specialisterne (Specialist People Foundation). Specialisterne assesses and employs high-functioning autistic adults, highlighting their special skills to out-perform the labor market.
His Changemaker journey
Thorkil had little understanding of the issues and particulars of the autistic spectrum disorder until he had an autistic child. Reverse-engineering from his son’s future, he saw very limited opportunities for dignified employment for his son and very limited chances for autistic people to become active, contributing members of society.
Thus, Thorkil wanted to “create a space” for his son and, upon learning of his son’s autism, Thorkil joined autism organizations in Denmark, soon ascending to leadership positions and helping chair housing facilities for people with Aspergers.
While involved in that work, he met a young teenage autistic who was very bright and highly skilled at computers but was living with his gift lying idle, having been given an “early retirement” pension at the age of eighteen. It was then when Thorkil decided to “hand in the company car” and leave his job as technical director of a Danish software company in 2004, after realizing that many people with autism possess skills in perfect alignment with those required to be an excellent software tester.
Unable to find a traditional bank loan, he built Specialisterne on capital he acquired from re-mortgaging his family home and he convinced his former employer to be his first client.
Thorkil is broadening perceptions of normality and providing a neglected population with the tools to be active and independent contributors, through a company designed to capitalize on the unique characteristics of the autism disorder.
Drawing upon an extensive IT background, Thorkil has built Specialisterne, a company that focuses specifically on providing autistic people with engaging employment, a supportive work environment and the skills they require to succeed in the working world.
By demonstrating how autistic people can excel and add value in the labor market, Specialisterne is offers an opportunity for active, productive and fulfilling lives.
Specialisterne’s office culture caters to the requirements of autistic workers, from structured working methods, clear instructions and limited stress situations to working hours adjusted to individual capacities. Personal support and personalized training and skill development program facilitate a comfortable transition into the workforce.
Thorkil is emphatically committed to offering Specialisterne’s services as an equal—or better yet, superior— competitor with other, traditional software companies. Besides, Thorkil is quick to dismiss any suggestion that “charity,” “cheap labor,” or “sheltered workplace” considerations should be considered in decisions to use his company’s services.
Thorkil’s hands-on assessment strategy supports young people prepare for active roles in society. This approach would reinforce Thorkil´s earlier finding that a comfortable, accepting environment—in which certain behaviors are not only normal and understood, but expected and valued—has as immensely positive impact on the functioning, happiness and employment prospects of autistic people.