International Specialisterne Community

Specialisterne Foundation

Specialisterne Foundation is a not-for-profit foundation with the goal to generate meaningful employment for one million autistic/neurodivergent persons through social entrepreneurship, corporate sector engagement and a global change in mindset.



The UN and employment for people with ASD

Apr 3, 2015

Today, April, 2, the Word Autism Awareness Day, in the UN –organization that instituted the day in 2008-, happened an event began dedicated to the employment of people with autism. Thorkil Sonne, founder of Specialisterne, took part in the conference and its planning.

80% of adults with autism are estimated to be unemployed. In Europe, according to Autism Europe, the percentage is between 76% and 80%. But current researches indicate that the companies are noticing that some abilities possessed by people with ASD are more developed than in ‘neurotypicals”, like pattern recognition, logical thought or attention to detail.

The path to an inclusive society

Ban Ki-moon launched a “Call to Action” on employment, inviting companies and governments to help and commit in hiring people with ASD, by reconsidering the way of seeing such people are viewed and dedicating time to acknowledge the condition, to create opportunities that can change their lives. “To know the talents of people with ASD, instead of focusing in the handicaps is essential to create a really inclusive society”, said the Secretary-General of the UN.

The keynote speaker, Jack Markell, the Governor of Delaware, explained that hiring people with ASD is not just a social matter, it also makes sense from an economic point of view, since they can aggregate much value. He praised the path initiated by Thorkil Sonne in 2004, when Specialisterne was created and demonstrated to the world that it was possible. Jack Martell enthusiastically supported the opening of the first Specialisterne office in the USA in 2013.

Thorkil Sonne UN


Thorkil Sonne, in his turn, told that many companies have vacant positions in IT. And, on the other hand “there are millions of people with ASD wanting to work, but only a few succeeded”.

In their search for talents, that companies must consider people with ASD and employ four basic values in the work environment:

  • Respect – we are all different
  • Adaptability – adjust the work environment for the well-being of the person
  • Clarity – clearly define the expectations
  • Accessibility – provide a guide in case of doubt

Thorkil, after showing a movie with the perspective from people with ASD when searching for a job, emphasized that only with the joint effort of people with ASD, families, educators, governments, lawmakers, social entrepreneurs, NGOs, foundations and philanthropists, we may envision a world of equal working opportunities for all“Specialisterne, in its eleven years, acting in thirteen countries and four continents, has seen how the hope for a job opportunity can become a reality in very different circumstances.”


And the founder of Specialisterne added: “My dream is that, when we get together to celebrate the World Autism Awareness Day in 2025, we will have achieved and even surpassed the goal of 1 million jobs for people with autism”.

Committed companies

Attending the event were several important people, acknowledged organizations related to autism (Autism Speaks, Autism Europe), universities and a considerable groups of companies that have already started working with people with ASD, in many cases, through Specialisterne. Thus, companies explained their visions and commitments companies like CAI, Ernest & Young, Freddie Mac, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Oliver Wyman, Rising Tide Car Wash, SAP and Towers Watson.

Professor Arlene S. Kanter (Syracuse University) stated that instead of asking how a person with ASD may take care of herself/himself, we should ask how society must change to assure the inclusion.

Professor Rob Austin (Copenhagen Business School) pointed out that innovative economics, more than ever, requires people who can think differently and provide a new perspective.

Tanja Rueckert (SAP) explained her inclusion program, conducted in collaboration with other organizations and Specialisterne, to provide jobs, for example, to a 56 year old woman as a specialist in software quality assurance. SAP already has more than 40 people with ASD working and remains on target to have 1% of its labor force inside the spectrum. After successfully employing people in Germany, Canada, USA, India, Ireland and in the United Kingdom, SAP now intends to extend its “autism At Work” program in Brazil and in the Czech Republic.

John Haley (Towers Watson) highlighted that the pilot project with 18 people with ASD dedicated to data analysis has been a success, with many contribution to the improvement of processes.

Michael Fieldhouse (Hewlett Packard) and Mitch Levy (Australian Government) talked about the success of the “Dandelion Program”, was done in collaboration with Specialisterne, that has already hired 11 people with ASD and is intending to hire many more this year.

Mary Ellen Smith, representing Microsoft, a company that has a 17 year old inclusion program, announced a pilot project with Specialisterne.

Jeremy Badman (Oliver Wyman) told that the results of a pilot project with Specialisterne in data management, were excellent, and the consulting company is considering new tasks for people with ASD.

Ernie Dianastasis (CAI), said that the greatest value of the 35 people with ASD aged between 18 and 45, working for the IT company, is their “honesty, focus and hardworking”. Dianastasis also announced that his objective is “having, by the end of 2015, 3% of the workforce composed by people with ASD”.

Other examples

Many companies got inspired by the Specialisterne model. Rajesh Anandan (ULTRA Testing), also took part in the event, saying that hiring people with ASD is a necessity to keep the company competitive. ULTRA Testing, specialized in software testing, has 80% of employees with ASD and analyzed data indicating that “productivity of people with ASD is between 20% and 56% higher than among other workers”.

Thomas D’Eri (Rising Tide Car Wash) presented his company, which hires 35 people, most within the ASD and is devoted to cleaning cars.


Brazil and Latin America

Specialisterne is taking measures to initiate operations in Brazil. This year, they are replicating the international Specialisterne model. Ramon Bernat, member of the board of the Specialisterne Foundation and director of operations in the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America, told in his interview to UN radio: “in Spain and Latin America, we have much work to do and make the companies aware that people with ASD are not people with disabilities, but with an excess of capacity for certain jobs”.

Look at the message of the Secretary-General of the UN, the WAAD site and the program of the day. Or watch the video about the WAAD, made by the UN for the day.

You can also watch the whole video of the event in the web tv of the UN.