Danish company employing staff with autism plans to open branch in Glasgow|
GLASGOW, Scotland: A computer company in Denmark which has made huge strides in employing workers with autism is expecting to begin work in the UK soon.
Specialisterne was started by a Danish man, Thorkil Sonne, whose own son has autism. Sonne now employs more than 40 people with autism.
He is finalising plans to set up a branch in Glasgow in the coming months. He hopes to hire 50 workers in the first three years of operating in Scotland.
A survey by Autism Europe shows that 62 per cent of adults with autism do not have any work at all.
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."
The company's founder, Thorkil Sonne, recognises that his staff with autism need a quiet environment and fixed routines. Given the right conditions, they excel at technical tasks.
Robots and Lego models are used to test their skills. Thorkil Sonne said: "People come to me who've had difficulties in the labour market and got depressed. They're like computers that need re-booting. I see them grow in self-esteem. It's the most motivating part of my work and a magical moment for me, as the father of a boy with autism."
Sonne's son, Lars, was diagnosed at the age of three. He is now 12. Sonne told me: "I read up about the condition - but there were too many books describing what people can't do.
"And yet my staff are able to go and work at the premises of our customers. I'm so proud. I didn't think that would be possible when I started the company five years ago."
The experience in Denmark shows that autistic workers are an untapped resource.
(Source: BBC News Online, July 17, 2009)