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

EIN:  45-3612906

Our Team

Tara Cunningham, CEO, Specialisterne USA

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.

Stephanie Diaconis, Director of Employment Transition

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.

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.
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.