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Old May 10th, 2011, 10:15 AM   #1
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Default Specialisterne: leveraging the unique skills of Autistics at competitive market terms

Specialisterne (Danish for 'specialists') is a groundbreaking social enterprise using the characteristics of people with Autism Spectrum Disorders as competitive advantages in the business market. The IT consultancy was formed in 2004 by Thorkil Sonne. He had just had a young son diagnosed with infantile autism (named Lars) and saw the potential that people like him could bring to the workplace.

The company's focus is on Software Testing and it utilises Autistic traits like excellent attention to detail, accuracy, and a methodical approach. At the same time, it seeks to minimise their exposure to factors in the workplace which can often be barriers in the careers of those with autism spectrum disorders.

The company's business model has recently been replicated - with Specialisterne Scotland and Specialisterne Iceland opening up. There are also plans afoot to open offices in other European countries.

Already the Specialisterne example has been followed in a number of other countries. In Belgium, England, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland, companies have sprang up with similar ideas - to harness Autistic strengths for careers in Software Testing (and related fields). While Thorkil Sonne wants Specialisterne to remain a for profit company (partly to guard against any 'jobs for charities' type considerations), a US non-profit equivalent has recently opened up in suburban Chicago - Aspiritech.

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Old May 11th, 2011, 02:15 AM   #2
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Default Re: Specialisterne: leveraging the unique skills of Autistics at competitive market t

Autism may be more prevalent than estimated, Korean study finds :: The Republic

Quote:
A large study has found that the rate of children with autism in a portion of a South Korean city was more than double previous national estimates in other countries, leading researchers to call for similar reviews in the United States and abroad to better gauge the disorder's true extent.
The study, published Monday, found that 2.6 percent of the region's children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, more than double the 0.7 to 1 percent now regularly found in other countries, including the United States.

2.6 percent! That either makes autism more of a rare personality type, or else there is a massive public health problem. (Or more likely the truth lies in some understanding that integrates those two aspects)
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Old May 11th, 2011, 02:16 AM   #3
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Default Talented misfits

High returns on IQ between countries, but low returns within country Jim’s Blog

Quote:
A two standard deviation difference in an individual person’s IQ predicts only about a 30% difference in his wage. But half a standard deviation difference in a country’s average IQ score predicts a 200% difference in the average wage in that country.
Why do high IQ people do so badly?
Suppose you have a bunch of people together. And the crowd makes a mistake about X, or, which comes to much the same thing, a high status person in the crowd makes a mistake about X. The high IQ kid is going to say “X is wrong”. But no one else in the crowd can tell whether X is right or wrong. They will think it is a matter of opinion, like what flavor of icecream is better, or a matter of authority, an arbitrary rule decreed by someone, and this kid is wrongfully claiming authority to decree that rule.
And will conclude that the smart kid is inappropriately throwing his weight around, is acting inappropriately for his status, they will be insulted, offended, and angered at what they incorrectly perceive as a claim of status and authority. And so will attempt to correct his swelled head, will tell him his status is low, and his status claim inappropriately high.
So the smart kid in the group, like the stupid kid in the group, is going to wind up at the bottom – and very likely with an income to match. The high IQ kid is going to be a social failure in a group where the majority is stupid.
In the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is at the bottom.
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Old May 12th, 2011, 05:01 AM   #4
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Default Specialisterne: leveraging the unique skills of Autistics at competitive market terms

Having demonstrated the effectiveness of his concept, Thorkil Sonne stepped back from the post of CEO in order to focus most of his energies on spurring the global spread of his concept through Specialisterne's sister foundation, the Specialist People Foundation (SPF).

The SPF was established in 2008 largely to meet the high demand for international expansion - people from more than 50 countries had expressed interest in the concept to Thorkil Sonne.
(source: Thorkil Sonne | Ashoka - Ireland)

The SPF's ultimate goal is to provide meaningful and productive jobs for one million specialist people.

Thorkil Sonne hopes to create the jobs through the SPF, by replicating the successful model worldwide (starting in Glasgow, Scotland): "The opening of Specialisterne Scotland sets the scene for the first international Specialisterne operation with potential to become a showcase not just for Scotland and the UK--but for the whole world in our ambition to create one million jobs for autistic people globally."
(source: http://www.theautismnews.com/2010/08/05/jobs-lifeline-for-autism-sufferers/)

Last edited by Visionary7903; September 11th, 2012 at 07:27 AM.
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Old May 12th, 2011, 06:24 PM   #5
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Default Specialisterne: leveraging the unique skills of Autistics at competitive market terms

Some encouraging personal stories from working at Specialisterne...

Quote:
...In the meantime, Mr Sonne said that if proof were needed of the benefits of his company's work then look no further than his staff. He said: "I have seen people transformed. One of our consultants had not worked for 24 years. Now he is testing for Cisco Systems. He finally feels he is part of society and respected. He can talk up at family gatherings..."
(source: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/the-company-that-turned-disability-into-an-asset-1801627.html)

Quote:
"You don't know me. I am crying as I write this message to you. You recently hired my son. And he is happy again for the first time since he started school..."

- The parent of a Specialisterne employee in an email to Thorkil Sonne
(source: Austin, R. J. Wareham & X. Busquets 'Specialisterne: Sense & Details,' Case No. 608-109, Harvard Business School Publishing, January 23, 2008.)

Quote:
...I visited Specialisterne and met Soeren Ljunghan, 42.
He has a form of autism called Asperger's Syndrome.
It gives him focus and persistence - traits which have helped him become a champion weight-lifter.
But autistic people find social interaction and unpredictability difficult. Soeren endured a spell of unemployment.
He said: "It was a living hell.
"I kept going to job interviews but coming second and wondering why I wasn't chosen.
"It was very stressful. I began to question whether I would work again."
At Specialisterne, Soeren works 25 hours a week testing software.
He said: "I like the work because I know what to expect from each day..."
(source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8153564.stm)

Quote:
...Sonne introduced me to one of his colleagues, Thomas Jacobsen, 27. Jacobsen's autism wasn't diagnosed until he was in his twenties and, meeting him, you can understand why. There is a slight social awkwardness (though probably little more than you would experience with anyone confronted by an inquisitive journalist), and nothing to alert you to the fact he has endured lengthy periods of depression in his life.

"I wouldn't say it was a relief, but it was nice to have a name for it, for my problem," he told me of his diagnosis. "Actually, I don't call it a problem, I call it a twist. Before, I felt I was different because I wasn't very social, I preferred being on my own and had lots of special interests: earthquakes, tsunamis, geography, GNPs..." "GNPs?" "Yes, you know, the gross national product of different countries. Since I started work here, I have learnt to cope better with social interaction,

I haven't had a depression in two-and-a-half years. I am getting more involved in bringing new ideas to the company and am part of shaping the Specialisterne Foundation [responsible for rolling out the concept to other countries]. You do have to have the right environment for people with Asperger's to function--there needs to be an acceptance that I am special, that I might not work regular hours, that I might have down periods--but if you have that in place, we can do any job."

Most Specialisterne employees tend to work 20- to 25-hour weeks, but Jacobsen has brought his hours up to 35. "You really blossom here. I see it with so many Aspergerians who join the company and get proper training. I have a lot of friends at the company now, and we socialise and go out together in town. We know we all have that twist."

Last edited by Visionary7903; September 11th, 2012 at 07:24 AM.
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Old May 15th, 2011, 01:37 PM   #6
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Default Specialisterne: leveraging the unique skills of Autistics at competitive market terms

The Specialisterne concept has the potential to impact wider society, beyond the small minority of people with A.S.D.

There is the saving to the taxpayer of having a pool of people who are often currently unemployed and underemployed, becoming more self-sufficient.

Also the Specialist People Foundation aims to spread Specialisterne's business model for hiring challenged populations. This includes people who are at lower points on the autistic spectrum as well as other disorders or personality differences that make it hard for them to find their place in the modern workplace. Indeed, ultimately Thorkil Sonne wants to reach even beyond the 1 percent of the global population with A.S.D., to affect a wider pool of people with “invisible barriers that keep them from reaching their full potential” in the workplace.
(source: http://www.odemagazine.com/doc/68/thorkil-sonne-bio/)

Finally, there is the possibility that having such consultants stationed on companies' premises will influence the wider working environment in positive ways:
Quote:
...Remarkably, about 70 per cent of Specialisterne’s employees are stationed in client premises. I asked Sonne how easy it is for them to fit in with other working environments. “We create virtual Specialisterne environments in our clients’ offices. Everyone who will be in contact with our consultants is briefed about the conditions they require. They have to be nice to our people, avoid stressing them. In Denmark, we use a lot of irony and sarcasm, but people with autism can’t decode that. We make sure that the clients know how important it is to be direct, to outline tasks precisely and to stick to routines, particularly if any queries arise.”

[Sonne says] “...In fact, saying what you mean, meaning what you say, being nice, avoiding stress are all good things in general for companies to take on board. Many have said to us that having one of our consultants has softened the atmosphere...”

Last edited by Visionary7903; May 15th, 2011 at 04:40 PM.
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Old May 16th, 2011, 01:30 PM   #7
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Default Specialisterne: leveraging the unique skills of Autistics at competitive market terms

Thorkil Sonne said:
Quote:
"...I feel I am part of a global family when I meet families with a child or adult with autism. We share the same emotions, frustrations and hopes - regardless of the country, religion or culture we belong to. If we can bring the power of love for our vulnerable family members into a global context, we can give people with autism a better chance for a meaningful life. Alone we may not be able to do much but together, we can change the world..."
(source: gulfnews : Sonne shines with company for people with ASD)

Similarly, many of the other people involved in the founding of similar 'specialist' companies were motivated by their own experiences with family members with Autism.

For example, Keita Suzuki started up KAIEN in Japan, also motivated by his son's Autism. Several days before Keita Suzuki started classes at the Kellogg School of Management, his 3-year-old son was diagnosed with Autism.
Quote:
...“Because my son is such a nice, nice kid, I could not believe that people like him couldn’t get a job,” he said...
(source: Autistic son sparks business plan for job-training | SafetyNetSource)

Last edited by Visionary7903; May 19th, 2011 at 02:41 PM.
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Old May 17th, 2011, 02:51 AM   #8
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Default Michael Burry

Incorrect Pleasures: Michael Burry – he’s autistic and a genius and he knows it
Quote:
Who is Michael Burry? He is the self-taught investment guru who correctly predicted the 2007 collapse of the subprime mortgage market and made a fortune for himself and the investors in his hedge fund.


His obsession with personal honesty was a cousin to his obsession with fairness.”

“My nature is not to have friends.”

“He was recognizing patterns no one else was seeing.”

“There is no golf or other hobby to distract me.”

“People who meet me who haven’t read what I wrote – it almost never goes well. Even in high school it was like that – even with teachers.”

“Only someone who has Asperger’s would read a subprime-mortgage-bond prospectus.”

And Burry's explanation for his decision to not disclose his discovery that he has Asperger syndrome to his investors:

"It wasn’t a change. I wasn’t diagnosed with something new. It’s something I’d always had.”


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Old May 18th, 2011, 05:20 PM   #9
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Default Specialisterne: leveraging the unique skills of Autistics at competitive market terms

Less than two months ago, Specialisterne Iceland opened:
Quote:
...The general manager, Bjarni, and the founder, Hjortur, are really calm and dedicated - the right people to involve all stakeholders in the Icelandic society to unite forces to make Specialisterne Iceland a role model not only for Iceland but for communities of the same size in the whole World..
(source: http://thorkilsjourney.specialistpeople.com/launching-specialisterne-iceland)

Thorkil Sonne's visit to Iceland in January 2009 had originally sparked the idea of launching a similar company there. He visited at the invitation of the small nation's Autism Association and the initiative of Margret Dagmar Ericsdottir, the producer of the documentary A Mother's Courage: Talking Back to Autism ( aka The Sunshine Boy), which mentions Specialisterne.
(source: http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/search/news/Default.asp?ew_0_a_id=368714)

Directed by award-winning Icelandic filmmaker Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, The Sunshine Boy is a story of courage, hope, and love. Margret travels from Iceland to the U.S. as she embarks upon a quest to understand her severely autistic son Keli (age 11).
(source: http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117941130/)

Last edited by Visionary7903; September 12th, 2012 at 12:37 AM.
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Old May 19th, 2011, 02:39 PM   #10
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Default Specialisterne: leveraging the unique skills of Autistics at competitive market terms

And another example of a happy Specialisterne employee...
Quote:
I have an ability to see when something deviates, it kind of leaps to the eye. It’s an ability many people don’t seem to have, but to me it’s natural. I consider myself fairly normal, but I have a keen eye for errors. I completed 90 percent of my teacher’s education and I could manage the theoretical part, but I wasn’t good at teaching children and making contact with them. I like working here. I don’t have to try to be anything other than myself. At times I can become obsessed with my work and that’s fine. In another company I might be expected to make small talk and be flexible. Here I can just concentrate on my work without being considered antisocial.
—Torben Sørensen, Specialisterne employee, URBAN DK, October 10, 2005
(source: Wareham, J. & Sonne T. (2008). “Harnessing the Power of Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Innovations case narrative: Specialisterne, Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization, Vol. 3, no. 1, Winter, p. 11-27.)
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