Specialisterne USA

Specialisterne Origins

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


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

Tara Cunningham

Tara Cunningham, CEO

Tara is an Ashoka Fellow and an internationally recognized, award-winning CEO and Social Entrepreneur working for people with disabilities. Over the past 18 years, she has been appointed to various non profit and governmental boards, advised non profits, corporate social responsibility programs, social enterprises, government agencies, the European Commission, politicians and philanthropic foundations throughout the US and Europe on how to create sustainable social impact and recently Co-Founded the Grunin Center for Law and Social Entrepreneurship at NYU School of Law. In 2017 Tara began working as the CEO of Specialisterne USA to drive their proven neurodiversity employment model into exponential growth. She lives in Toms River, NJ with her husband Mark and their really amazing children Eoin, Charlie and Emilia. In her spare time, she is a terrible singer, seamstress, gardener and barber.

Dan Benitez, Chief Operating Officer

Having been a part to a series of non profit efforts as a volunteer and board member throughout his career Dan decided to elevate his passion for helping others to a full time basis as Specialisterne USA's COO. Prior to joining the team he worked at JP Morgan Chase, the National Center for PTSD (Behavioural Science Division) and also served a brief time in the US Army as a combat engineer. When not at work he enjoys walking around the waterfront in his neighborhood of Hoboken, NJ with his wonderful partner Carolina and possibly the world's most amazing pug; Tomasa.

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 May 2019.  We are extremely excited to have him on board!

Jessica Dudek, Director of Corporate Engagement

Jessica joins us with a background in business, recruiting and counseling.  After working for years facilitating the logistics operations for Johnson and Johnson’s largest customer and recruiting on campus for the department, Jessica received her Master’s degree in counseling.  As a counselor Jessica worked at both the high school and middle school level supporting all students including those on the spectrum.   She is passionate about helping people along their path to achieve success.  She lives in Colts Neck, NJ with her husband and two young daughters.
Jennifer Feldman

Jennifer Feldman, Employment Transition Consultant

Jennifer is the newest member of the Specialisterne team as our Employment Transition Consultant. Jennifer has been working with children and adults on the autism spectrum for the past 10 years. Jennifer joins us after supervising clinical 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 Long Island, NY where they live.
Eric Pooley

Eric Pooley, 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

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.
Andrew Lee

Andrew E. Lee, Secretary

Andrew is an attorney at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP in New York City.  His work with Specialisterne USA began in October 2016 when he represented the organization on a pro bono basis in connection with various corporate matters.  He was asked to join the Board the following year and currently serves as Board Secretary.  When he’s not reading credit agreements, Andrew likes to surf, play guitar and travel.  He’s a dedicated learner of early American history and an unapologetic fan of the New York Jets.  Most importantly, Andrew is passionate about workplace neurodiversity and making the U.S. a more tolerant place for different perspectives.
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.

Thorkil Sonne, Founder and Chairman of Specialisterne Foundation

Thorkil founded Specialisterne (The Specialists) in Denmark in 2004 as the first market driven company where autistic traits are turned into advantages performing high quality services for inclusive employers. Specialisterne is a case study at Harvard Business School, was awarded ‘Best large social firm Europe 2006’ by CEFEC and named ‘One of 12 shocking ideas that could change the World’ by Wired Magazine. Thorkil Sonne has a long background in the private IT and Telecommunications business. He has been president of a local branch of Autism Denmark, and is father of an autistic son. Thorkil has been recognized with Autism Prize by Autism Denmark, IT Prize The Danish IT Industry Association, ‘Brave Thinker’ by The Atlantic Magazine,  ‘Intelligent Optimist’ by Ode Magazine. He is an Ashoka Fellow, World Economic Forum Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur and arranges an annual global Autism Advantage Luncheon with UN Department of Public Information. Thorkil is co-author of articles for Harvard Business Review, MIT Innovation Journal and  MIT Sloan Management Magazine.

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.