Specialisterne USA

Specialisterne Foundation is an international, award winning social enterprise setting the “gold standard” for neurodiversity employment. Specialisterne was founded in 2004 by Thorkil Sonne after Sonne’s young son was diagnosed with the disorder, when he realized we should focus on the ability of neurodiversity: attention to detail, high accuracy, innovative thinking, loyalty and honesty rather than the “disability”. In 2012, Specialisterne USA, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization began the Autism Advantage movement in the USA starting the highly successful SAP and Microsoft autism employment programs. Under Thorkil’s leadership, the momentum has grown across sectors throughout the US. Smart business leaders know they need to tap into the neurodiversity talent pool and are happy to work with Specialisterne USA to benefit from it. We are now ready to pioneer online training and stackable credentials to help the supply side keep up with corporation and employer demand. Our goal is to enable 100,000 jobs for neurodiverse people in the United States by 2025.

The Dandelion

Weed or herb? You decide. The value of what you see depends on who you are.

To most people, the dandelion is nothing more than an annoying weed – something to be rooted out of our lawns and flower beds. But what a lot of people do not know is that, when cultivated, the dandelion is one of the most valuable and useful plants in nature. The dandelion is known for its nutritional, healing and medicinal properties. The value of a dandelion is very much dependent on our knowledge and perception of its value. So is a dandelion a weed or an herb?

A weed is a plant in an environment where it is not welcomed. If the plant is transferred to an environment where it is welcomed – it turns into an herb. We have chosen the seed of the dandelion as our logo to remind everyone that we all have the potential to realize our potential if welcomed and understood. It is the setting that we end up in that determines if we will be able to grow or wither.

More about the Dandelion Principle in this MIT Sloan Review.

Neurodiversity at work

‘Neurodiversity’ is a relatively new term that refers to people who have dyslexia, autism, ADHD, dyspraxia and other neurological conditions. These are ‘spectrum’ conditions, with a wide range of characteristics, but which nevertheless share some common features in terms of how people learn and process information.

The neurodiversity paradigm is a specific perspective which holds that neurodiversity is a natural form of human diversity and that all styles of neurocognitive functioning are equally valid.

The neurodiversity movement frames minority neurotypes such as autism as natural human variations, which are authentic forms of human diversity and self-expression rather than pathologies.

Ref 9/16,

Helen Bewley and Anitha George
National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR)

Why We Exist

Our Vision

A world where people are given equal opportunities in the labor market.

Our Mission

To educate stakeholders in talent and career development for neurodiverse people through innovation, collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Our Values

  • Respect
  • Clarity
  • Accommodation
  • Accessibility

990s

Federal Tax ID:  45-3612906

Specialisterne USA has made a commitment to reinvest the majority of our profits to benefit neurodiversity at work program development.

EIN:  45-3612906

Our Team

Thorkil Sonne

Thorkil Sonne, CEO

Thorkil Sonne is a World Economic Forum Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur, an Ashoka Globalizer Fellow and the founder of Specialisterne and Specialisterne Foundation. Since 2004, he has been working across the world to include autistic/neurodivergent persons into core functions in the labor market. Thorkil founded Specialisterne USA in 2013 and worked with United Nations to launch the Autism Advantage theme at the World Autism Awareness Day in 2015. Since then he has taken the Autism Advantage Luncheon concept to China, India and Indonesia. Thorkil lives in Denmark with his family and is chair of the Danish Government’s Council for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainable Development Goals. He has the world as work place in the efforts to enable one million jobs for neurodivergent persons by 2030. Thorkil is a member of the board in Specialisterne USA.

Stephanie Diaconis, Chief Program Officer

Stephanie is an entrepreneur and former teacher who uses her extensive business and teaching background to be the lead facilitator for over 20 Specialisterne programs nationally and internationally.   She collaborates with corporate colleagues to work with candidates to identify, develop and harness the Autism Advantage and Neurodiversity at Work so it can be applied in a professional working environment.   Stephanie also trains professionals in high schools, colleges, universities, vocational rehabilitation and community agencies to help their students and clients transition into meaningful careers. Stephanie has helped hundreds of candidates to secure meaningful careers across sectors including Software Engineering, Developers, Test Analyst, Account Support Associates, System Administrator, Cyber Security Analyst, Tax Process Specialists, Sales and more. In her spare time, Stephanie and her husband Bob make the most amazing rice pudding in the Tri-State Area.  Her daughters both live and work in NYC.
Mohammed Siddique

Mohammed Siddique, Director of IT

Mohammed joined Specialisterne USA in April 2019. He is passionate about Technology, graduated from City College of New York with Bachelors in Social Science. He was always interested in tinkering with electronics, taking them apart and putting them back together. He has been in the IT field since the late 90's dot com era with diverse experience and interests in Internet technology, hardware, software, finance and catering industry. Mohammed likes the IT field because it is never boring, always changing and exciting. He lives in the Washington Heights area of NYC.
Brennan Shearer

Brennan Shearer, Corporate Engagement Manager

Brennan is a former Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, who's private sector experience includes PricewaterhouseCoopers management consulting, and a real estate lending startup funded by Blackstone Tactical Investments. Straddling the line between for profit and non-profit, Brennan's social impact experience has specialized in Small and Medium Enterprises (SME's) and workforce development programs. He holds an MPA from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and a BSBA in Finance from the University of South Carolina.
Jenn

Jennifer Feldman, Engagement Program Manager

Jennifer is a licensed Social worker who is certified in Executive Functioning and specializes in Organizational and Development Psychology. Jennifer has been working with children and adults on the autism spectrum for the past 10 years. Jennifer joins us after supervising clinical treatment teams at the Center for Autism in Philadelphia. She received her Masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania school of Social Work and Social Policy and her Bachelors degree in Developmental Psychology from the University of Michigan. Jennifer's interest in executive functioning and Neurodiversity is what led her to connecting with Specialisterne. In her spare time, Jenn loves spending time with her family and is excited to be moving closer to where they live.
Susan Vosseller

Susan Moore Vosseler, Engagement Facilitator

National Board Certification Counselor (NCC) with advanced experience and education as Behavior Specialist Consultant (BSC), Susan manifests a hybrid approach -- the Art of Counselor and the Science of Behavior Specialist informing a holistic approach guided by mindfulness, leadership, communication, positive energy, affirmation, compassion, empathy and a deep behavioral understanding and humanity. With a rich foundation in Autism, Susan notices each step on the journey, each effort and communicative intent. That mastery of behavioral observation moves beyond Autism to mental health to well-being to a comprehensive experience throughout lifespan. Susan holds a Master of Arts in Clinical-Counseling Psychology from LaSalle University in Philadelphia and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Gwynedd-Mercy College.
Eric Pooley

Eric Pooley, Autism Advocate/IT Specialist

Eric Pooley is an expert programmer, software engineer and database analyst who supports the Specialisterne USA team in all things IT.   In addition, Eric came to our team through a Specialisterne Program run by AHRC, when he was diagnosed late in life with Aspergers Syndrome.  Eric is an “Ambassador of the Autism Advantage” to his peers, colleagues and our clients, working closely with Stephanie to ensure the Specialisterne programs are rigorously reviewed and adapted to meet all neurodiversity inclusion. When he is not on the computer, Eric and his wife Virginia can be found ballroom dancing, occasionally performing for audiences.

Our Board

V R Ferose, Chair

Senior Vice President, HEAD of Globalization Services, SAP SE Based in Palo Alto, Ferose heads the Globalization Services unit and is responsible for enabling the global adoption of SAP products worldwide. The unit consists of 1300+ employees spread across 40+ countries across the globe with a mission of empowering all businesses to run compliant locally and compete globally. Before heading Globalization Services, Ferose was the Managing Director of SAP Labs India. Starting at the age of 33, he held this post for over 5 years during which he transformed SAP Labs India into an innovation hub. In 2012, the company was recognized as one of the “Great place to work” in India for its very first time. Ferose is a Chair on the Board of Specialisterne USA, a not-for-profit foundation with the goal to create one million jobs for people with autism and similar challenges. He is the founder of the India Inclusion Foundation a nonprofit, aiming to bring the topic of inclusion at the forefront in India. The India Inclusion Summit, The Inclusion Fellowship and Inclusion Platform(Incluzone) are some of the initiatives under the nonprofit. Ferose has co-authored a best-seller book on people with disabilities, GIFTED. The book has been translated into four Indian regional languages. The Kannada translation won the prestigious Karnataka Sahitya Academy Award. Ferose also teaches “Personal Leadership” at Columbia University, New York. All details about Ferose at: http://www.ferosevr.com Follow Ferose @ https://twitter.com/VRFerose
Anthony Pacilio

Anthony Pacilio, Member at Large

Anthony Pacilio is a Vice President and Global Head of Autism at Work for JPMorgan Chase. In this role, he manages recruiting efforts, as well as developing candidate pipelines and ensuring best practices for ongoing support. Anthony has been with JPMC 8 years, serving in a variety of technology roles in Consumer and Community Banking.  Prior to joining JPMC, he held various positions in the finance and healthcare industry.  Anthony’s previous companies include MBNA America, Bank of America and CIGNA.

Amy Gravino, Chair, Advocacy

Amy is the President of A.S.C.O.T. Consulting, International Speaker, Autism Consultant, and College Coach. Amy is a Certified Autism Specialist, autism consultant, and college coach who is also diagnosed as having Asperger's Syndrome. Tara Cunningham heard Amy speak at the United Nations in 2018 and forged a friendship with Amy. In Summer of 2018, Amy was asked to join the board of Specialisterne. Amy founded A.S.C.O.T Consulting, LLC in 2010 and has over 15 years of public speaking experience at conferences, school assemblies, and professional development workshops, including two TED talks, most recently at TEDxJerseyCity in 2016. Amy currently serves on the Boards of Directors of Yes She Can Inc., and the Golden Door International Film Festival of Jersey City, and co-facilitates the Morris County chapter of the ASPEN-NJ adult support group. Amy obtained a Masters degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from Caldwell University and has published essays in numerous outlets, including "The Last Piece of the Puzzle" in The Best Life Stories from Reader's Digest and "Try a Little Tenderness: A Firsthand Perspective on Asperger Syndrome and Dating" in W. L. Heward's Exceptional Children: An Introduction to Special Education. Amy has also been featured in a piece on autism and sexuality in the May 2018 issue of New Jersey Monthly Magazine, and an interview in April in the Bergen edition of The Record newspaper. She is now authoring The Naughty Autie, a memoir of her experiences with dating, relationships, and sexuality from the firsthand perspective of a woman on the autism spectrum.
Joseph Jones

Joseph Jones, Chair, Policy

Joseph, the Executive Director of The Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement joined the Specialisterne USA Advisory Board in July 2018 having previously helped Specialisterne with a number of policy questions.  He worked as legislative assistant for Senator Harkin’s office in Washington, D.C., from 2010 to 2013, and served as senior vice president for government relations and public policy at the Greater Des Moines Partnership. The Harkin Institute at Drake was founded in the spring of 2013 to inform citizens, inspire creative cooperation, and catalyze change on issues of social justice, fairness, and opportunity. The Institute offers programming, research, and connectivity focused on areas that defined Senator Harkin’s career, including people with disabilities, retirement security, wellness and nutrition, and labor and employment. Joseph is an experienced professional with a demonstrated history of working in international and government affairs. Strong researcher skilled in Politics, Policy Analysis, Event Planning, Governmental Affairs, and working with Nonprofit Organizations.
Dr William McMahon

Dr William McMahon, Vice Chair

Dr. William McMahon is a child & adolescent psychiatrist with a long career of clinical, teaching and research contributions in service delivery, training, epidemiology, and genetics. He has over 100 peer-reviewed research publications.  He is a founder of the Utah Registry for Autism & Developmental Disorders. He was previously Director of the Utah Autism Research Program and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Utah. He is currently focused on outcome, quality of life, health and employment of adults with autism.

Kristin Wadhwa, Member at Large

Kristin Wadhwa is a Vice President in the Investment Management Division at Goldman Sachs. In this role, she manages relationships with the firm’s private clients and assists them portfolio management and with their philanthropic goals including social impact investing, environmental, social and governance considerations, and chartable strategies. Prior to joining Goldman Sachs, Kristin spent six years at President Clinton’s Foundation where she was responsible for developing and implementing global programs in partnership with municipal governments around the world. Kristin received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University and her MBA from NYU Stern School of Business. She also serves on the board and as a mentor for CitySquash, a youth enrichment program based in the Bronx.