When Danish IT specialist Thorkil Sonne found out his young son had autism, he decided to find out everything he could about the condition in a effort to make sure his child led as happy a life as possible.Turns out, the information led him on a crusade to change the way the world views people with autism. Sonne, a 49-year-old father of three, started an IT company staffed almost exclusively by people with autism, and its success has power players such as Microsoft and Cisco Systems lined up to use its services. Specialisterne (Specialists in English) employs more than 40 people with an autism spectrum disorder at its headquarters in Denmark, and is set to branch out to Glascow next year in the first step of a worldwide expansion.
Astounded when his son once reproduced a map of Europe from memory, Sonne’s research had uncovered that certain people with autism have superior memory recall, focus and precision compared to people without the condition. By taking advantage of these skills in the IT sector, which requires spotting anomolies in large quantities of data, Sonne’s company boasts an error rate of only O.5 percent, versus the industry average of five percent. Specialisterne maintains a friendly environment for its employees. A support worker makes sure that sudden or loud noises are minimized and clear task instructions are provided, while the work week is kept to about 25 hours. Rather than face-to-face interviews, which are taxing or impossible for many with autism, Sonne assesses potential workers with a complex form of Lego.
Of his staff, Sonne says he has seen people transformed. He cites the consultant who handn’t worked in 24 years and is now testing for Cisco Systems. “He finally feels he is part of society and respected,” Sonne says. “He can talk up at family gatherings. He recently got a girlfriend. He wants to work for us as a trainer. I see no reason why eventually those who are at the lower points in the autistic spectrum should not work as well.”