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Specialisterne provides services such as software testing, quality control and data conversion for business companies in Denmark. In addition Specialisterne assesses and trains people with ASD to meet the requirements of the business sector.
The company provides a working environment where it is ‘normal’ to have ASD and where the role of the management and staff is to create the best possible working environment for the employees with ASD.
The son of founder Thorkil Sonne was given the diagnosis “infantile autism, normal intelligence” at age 3. Thorkil became president of a local chapter of Autism Denmark for three years where he learned that people with ASD seldom have a chance to use their special skills in the labour market.
After 15 years working with IT within telecommunication companies, Thorkil knew the value of the skills he saw in people with ASD.
Thanks to the support of his family, Thorkil was able to start up Specialisterne based on a loan on their house and his family’s belief in his vision.
Specialisterne has 50+ employees of which approximately 75% have a diagnosis within the Autism Spectrum. The head offices are in Copenhagen. The company includes training programs to access and build up personal, social and professional skills for people with ASD – no formal education or job experiences are expected. A number of appropriate strategies are used for individuals on the spectrum, including LEGO Mindstorms robot technology, helping to detect the strengths, the motivation and the development opportunities of the individual.
Services offered by Specialisterne include software tests, quality control, documentation and data entries with a high attention to details and accuracy for Danish and international customers like TDC A/S, Grundfos, KMD, CSC, Microsoft and Oracle.
Specialisterne maintains a focus on transferring knowledge on how to turn disabilities into abilities. Speeches, workshops and courses are based on the method of positive thinking called The Dandelion Model. (The dandelion was symbolically chosen as a beneficial weed found in unexpected places, akin to the ethos of ASD including valuable skills.)
In December 2008, Thorkil Sonne donated all shares of Specialisterne to the Specialist People Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Sonne.
In September 2009, Specialisterne started a school where youth with ASD could get an education with focus on social development and interaction with its offices. The school is funded with help from the Lego Foundation and the Danish Ministry of Education.
In August 2010, Specialisterne opened in Scotland with David Farrell-Shaw as General Manager. The Scottish company was a subsidiary of the social enterprise company Community Enterprise in Scotland (CEiS), funded by £700,000 from the Scottish government; the project also received £407,036 from the Big Lottery Fund and £30,000 from Glasgow City Council.
In October 2010, assisted by funding support from a European Commission's Lifelong Learning Programme called the Leonardo da Vinci programme (project number 2010-1-IS1-LEO05-00579), a project began to link Scotland, Denmark, Germany and Iceland. The Icelandic offering went live in January 2011.
In September 2012, Specialisterne Scotland closed.
It has since re-opened in Glasgow and London. It is also opening branches in the United States, Dublin and Switzerland. A similar organisation in the United States, Aspiritech, is based on the same concept.
Specialisterne has been presented with:
- Initiative Award 2005, Mid Jutland IT Association
- Network Special Award 2005, the Danish National Network of Business Leaders
- Best Large Social Firm Europe 2006, CEFEC, the European confederation of Social Firms
Thorkil Sonne has been presented with:
- Autism Award 2004, Autism Denmark
- Best Track Presentation, EuroSTAR 2005
- Best Keynote Presentation, EuroSTAR 2006
- ARTE as European of the Week, June 2007
- IT Award 2008, Danish IT Industry Association
- ‘Specialisterne: Sense & Details’, Case Study, Harvard Business School
- Management Today
- The Independent
- Employers Forum on Disability
- Specialisterne in Scotland
- Specialisterne Iceland website
- Specialisterne in Iceland, Leonardo project
- Specialisterne in Austria