April 2 was the World Awareness Day on Autism and, on April 5, the annual event commemorating this date was celebrated at the United Nations headquarters in New York. In this edition, the theme was “Empowering Women and Girls with Autism”, trying to highlight the challenges faced by women and girls with autism, often subject to double discrimination. Thorkil Sonne, founder of Specialisterne, and Tara Cunningham, CEO of Specialisterne USA, participated in this day and its planning.
Currently, several studies confirm that 1 in 68 people are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and, within this collective, the unemployment rate is 85%. Furthermore, according to studies in Europe and in the United States of organizations such as National Autistic Society and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder is more frequent among men with a ratio of about one woman per 4 men diagnosed.
Various surveys show that companies are losing the opportunity to valorize the talent of people with autism in the company, and especially that of women, whose unemployment rate is significantly higher than that of men. Programs for the support and employment of women with autism are important not only from a social point of view, but they also make sense from an economic point of view, given that these people can bring much value.
Towards an inclusive society
During the event, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on businesses and public administrations to commit to supporting and recruiting women with Autism Spectrum Disorder, stressing that they are often subject to multiple forms of discrimination. To achieve this goal, consider the employment programs of people with autism to the whole of companies as “best practices” to be replicated around the world.
“To achieve an inclusive society to which we aspire, we must ensure that the fundamental rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted by member states at the United Nations in 2006, are known, respected and applied to all, including women and girls with autism”, said Alison Smale, director of global communications at the United Nations.
As in the previous three editions, Specialisterne participated in this event, talking about its model of job placement of people with autism, based on valorizing their special abilities by providing specific training and continuous support that allows many of these people to enter in the labor market in specific fields of the IT sector and in administrative tasks.
Tara Cunningham, CEO of Specialisterne USA, was the moderator of the “Education, Employment and Economic Empowerment” panel, in which she interviewed two women with autism who represent examples of success in the field of education and work.
An example of the success of the Specialisterne women is that of Tara Curry, who managed to get a position in a major financial firm in New York. She believed she would not meet the requirements for the position, as often happens to many people with autism, but among 40 candidates she was able to get this job. Tara tells how self-identification of a woman with autism has totally changed her life for the better, and invites all women with autism to do the same to be understood and supported.
Rachel Wilson, a student at the University of Mercyhurst, points out how the program to support people with autism in her university has helped her enormously in accepting her diagnosis, making new friends, and feeling more confident about herself.
Testimonies of women with autism
In the current training course of Specialisterne Italy, there are 3 women with autism, who have left a testimony of their experience at Specialisterne and of what they wish for Asperger women.
Rebecca, states that “Thanks to Specialisterne I no longer felt wrong but accepted and valued for my potential. I have made enormous progress, and I am living an important moment in my life of personal and professional growth. I would like women with Asperger to know that they are not alone but that we can support each other “. Alessia, another student of the course, adds that “Specialisterne is the moment when you understand that you can be worth something and that not everything about the Asperger is negative, but that Asperger can take you to beautiful places. Specialisterne is like a family, and it is a stage that everyone should have the chance to do. I think this is the place that will help women and men express what they are “. And finally, Giulia states that “in a society that considers us different, Specialisterne considers us specialists in what we do. This is why I feel accepted and valued for my potential”.
At Specialisterne we are confident that the 3 women of this training course will work within a few months and will be an example to the rest of the women and men with autism about what they can bring to society when it gives them an opportunity.