Weed or Herb? From Special Needs to Specialists

Social entrepreneur Thorkil Sonne is trying to change how the world thinks about autism.

Thorkil explained that people with autism are often defined by, and denied work because of, their lack of social skills.

Do you consider a dandelion a weed or an herb? Loads of fun for kids to blow at and send scattering in the wind, and loaded with rich nutritional value such as iron and vitamin A, but often seen as a weed that invades gardens because it is not wanted there.

In a similar way, how we perceive an individual depends very much on the lenses through which we choose to view him, social entrepreneur Thorkil Sonne told participants at the Singapore International Foundation’s fourth Ideas for a Better World Forum on 21 July.

Speaking on the competitive advantage of people he calls specialists, the Ashoka Fellow explained that people with autism are often defined by, and denied work because of, their lack of social skills.

But they possess special traits such as having great attention to detail and the ability to perform repetitive tasks with high accuracy, skills that make them specially suitable - specialists - for jobs such as software testing and data management.

Inspired by his son, who was diagnosed with autism, and informed by his years of experience in the information technology industry, Mr Sonne founded in 2004 Specialisterne, a for-profit company that competes on an even footing with other firms, to create jobs which harness the unique capabilities of these individuals for gainful employment.

He went on to establish the non-profit Specialist People Foundation in 2008 with the vision of enabling one million jobs for these specialists around the world and to help people see these specialists as worthy, valuable and contributing members of society.

Joining him for the panel discussion at the forum was Ms Denise Phua, president of the Autism Resource Centre Singapore and the supervisor of Pathlight School and Eden School Boards, who said there was more funding for and emphasis on formal training and education for special needs individuals in Singapore now, but added there needed to be a better structured job placement system to ensure their successful integration into the work environment.

Bringing perspectives from the business and employer’s side, were Ms Tracey Ho, a Workforce Diversity leader at IBM, and Mr Alvin Ng, a managing director for Global Enterprises at Cisco Systems.

Back
9 January 2018
Celebrating Friendships for a Better World

SIF Connects! Singapore saw over 100 international participants rekindle longstanding ties with the Singaporean community while gaining new insights of the country’s culture and social innovation landscape.

2 January 2018
Working Together To Raise the Level of Teaching Mathematics & Science in Mumbai

Three-year SIF-Parikrma partnership kickstarts a scalable and sustainable collaboration between Singaporean and Indian primary school educators focusing on pedagogical and assessment methods.

6 December 2017
Growing and Enabling an Arts for Good Community

29 participants from around the world gathered in Singapore for a four-day programme to explore how the arts can shape an inclusive society for persons with disabilities.

28 December 2017
Minister Yaacob Ibrahim’s Visit to Water for Life Project in Siem Reap

Singapore’s Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim visited the Singapore International Foundation’s (SIF) Water for Life project in the Prasat Bakong district in Siem Reap on 30 November 2017. His visit, to see...

4 September 2017
Friends for a Better World

Through the lens of National Geographic, find out how our Citizen Ambassadors help to build a Better World.

Back to Top 
Site Map