interview

Thorkil Sonne, founder of Specialisterne (Denmark)

Can you briefly describe why you started the company?

The Idea for Specialisterne and Specialisterne Foundation started with my son Lars. He was 2½ years old when my wife and I noticed that his development began to differ from that of his older brothers. We arranged with his day nursery that he would get extra support from a qualified child psychologist, all the while hoping of course that we could learn how best to help him become more like his brothers. Eventually, we were informed that Lars had autism – a life-long invisible disability. We feared that Lars would face a life where he would be constantly misunderstood and isolated because it would be difficult for him to interpret what others expected of him. Most likely, Lars would never have a normal working life.

Can you briefly describe the primary purpose of your company and what social or environmental problems you seek to address? 

I became active in the Danish Autism Association. I also studied the Danish welfare model, and realized that although the model is strong and has many good aspects, there was a lot of room for improvement. I learned that families with an autistic child have a high risk of exclusion from society. This is mostly due to the invisibility of the disability, meaning that the families struggle getting the outside world to understand and provide timely support. Social workers also work under difficult conditions. Welfare schemes is available, but the knowledge on autism is often scarce.

With the support of my family, I re-mortgaged our home and established Specialisterne. Specialisterne is an attempt to tailor a working environment geared towards autistic people, enabling them to use their specialist skills in the business sector, at market terms. Specialisterne Denmark also offer a three year youth education programme, assessment of working skills and competence training and development.

Our vision is to create new possibilities for autistic people and to influence society to adopt a more positive attitude towards autistic people so they can be included in society.

Can you describe how the two bottom lines are connected – how you manage to combine commercial income and social/or environmental impact.

With 30 consultants doing job for a variety of customers, a three-year youth education programme (30 students), were everybody go further for a job or an adult education and an assessment department (20 candidates), our social impact is huge. Instead of being on social benefit programs their skills are being assessed, developed or used in real work. At the same time, we get a commercial outcome so we can continue as a sustainable healthy business.    

Specialisterne is in 17 countries and via partners in 35 locations. Our aim is to create 1,000 jobs in Denmark and 1 million jobs global. Many more autistic persons should be benefitting from the Specialisterne model. We are constantly working on scaling our impact.

For more info:

Specialisterne

Phone: +45 46 93 24 00

Internet: www.specialisterne.com