Building a Business on the Strengths of People With Autism

The other day, my brother sent me a very interesting article from The New York Times titled "The Autism Advantage."  The article follows the story of Thorkil Sonne and his son Lars, who has autism.  Sonne, who lives in Denmark, started a company called Specialisterine, or "The Specialists" in English.  This company employs people with autism, specifically for the skills some individuals on the autism spectrum have that a neurotypical person might lack.

When a business needs to complete a task that requires high levels of concentration and repetition, they can outsource this task to Specialisterine.  For example, a company that makes cell phone apps used the company to test some of their apps and find any bugs in the system.  The company has been highly successful, and plans to expand into the United States.

I found the whole concept to be fascinating.  Gainful employment can be challenging to find for individuals with disabilities for a variety of reasons, frequently because of a work environment that has not learned to be accepting of people with different abilities.  There are lots of non-profit organizations that aim to address this important issue, but this is one of the first examples I've seen of a private company doing so.  Just like any private business, their aim is to be self-sufficient and grow.

Best of all, they pay their workers very well.  In Denmark, workers are paid between $22-39 an hour, with plans for U.S. hourly wages ranging from $20-30 an hour.  Specialisterine, like any other business, is also very picky when selecting talented workers to hire, as the job is a demanding one.

I think it's natural to feel a certain level of skepticism seeing as this company is a for-profit venture.  However, this model allows them to grow naturally and support themselves without relying on fundraising efforts.  If Specialisterine is able to function as a for-profit firm, while treating their workers with dignity and respect and paying them fairly, why shouldn't they pursue that?

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and we all try to take advantage of our strengths and minimize our weaknesses in our professional lives.  Why should it be any different for someone on the autism spectrum?

What do you think?  Should the Specialisterine model be replicated?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

Andrew Littlefield MM, MT-BC

The George Center , 12060 Etris Road, Roswell, GA, 30075