When Thorkil Sonne’s son Lars was diagnosed with autism at the age of two and a half in 1999, the last thing the chief technology officer expected was a career change. “I was a happy employee. I was happy to be employed by a big company,” he says.
Today, the 52-year-old who once oversaw technology at a spin-off of TDC, Denmark’s largest telecoms company, has sold his family home – after remortgaging it several times – and is relocating to the US state of Delaware. It is all part of his mission to persuade high-tech companies of the merits of employing autistic workers.
This month Specialisterne, the social enterprise he formed in 2004, which recruits autistic people for work on data entry, software programming and testing projects, announced a partnership with SAP, the German business software company. SAP’s ambition is to recruit hundreds of autistic employees to test its software. By 2020, the tech company aims to employ 650 autistic workers, or 1 per cent of its workforce.
The announcement, he says, has sparked interest from other employers.CAI, an IT consulting firm, last week announced it would work with Mr Sonne’s organisation to recruit autistic employees.