From Art to Animal Welfare The Diverse Strengths of Autistic People

Thorkil Sonne and Specialisterne have helped corporate technology companies such as HPE and SAP around the world to realize the tremendous potential of Autistic people. This outstanding work is creating opportunities for autistic people whose potential may not have otherwise been recognized. Another thing I love about these initiatives is the impact on non autistic people in the workplace. Employees of these large companies begin to understand, often for the first time how loyal, honest and capable their autistic colleagues are.

As an employment services manager at Specialisterne Australia one of the most common things that autistic people and their families talk about with me is the extremely diverse range of jobs and industries that autistic people can thrive in. Of course the idea that people with Autism or Asperger’s syndrome can excel in many fields has been around for many years. Hans Asperger said ‘It seems that for success in science or in art that a dash of autism is essential’.

 ‘It seems that for success in science or art a dash of autism is essential’ Hans Asperger

My experience working with autistic people over the years in the United Kingdom and Australia has been one of amazingly diverse talents and abilities too extensive to cover in this post. I will however explain a little of my experience of the talents of autistic people in Art and Science, the areas that Hans Asperger described so many years ago.


I was working in England at a school for autistic children when I first saw Stephen Wiltshire’s art. Like everyone else who saw his work and heard his story I was astonished. The brilliance of his perspective, his mesmerizing attention to detail and interest in iconic buildings made me an instant fan. Interestingly Stephen began mostly painting in black and white but has over the years developed into brilliant colour.

Fast forward ten years and while working in Brisbane as an Autism consultant I was fortunate enough to meet Tim and Judy Sharp. This is a truly inspirational story of a talented autistic artist and a mother determined to encourage and empower her son. Tim’s fun and cheeky personality seems to beam through each canvas and is sure to lift the bluest of moods. Personally, Tim’s drawings of Laser Beak Man are a reminder to me that the talents of autistic people are diverse and can be rich, colourful and surprising.


Tim created the drawing ‘A Temple of Minds’ featured above for a presentation he did last year with Professor of Animal Science Temple Grandin. Temple used her interest in animals at her aunt’s ranch and turned them into a successful career. Temple’s ability to think differently revolutionized animal husbandry and her inventions transformed animal welfare.Temple has often stated that while she has had to overcome difficulties her autism has contributed to her successes. For example, Temples visual thinking and ability to relate to the animals sensory experiences helped her to develop the animal handling equipment that has helped her succeed in her chosen industry. When giving advice to other autistic people regarding employment options Temple Grandin suggests using interests and turning them into careers.

Creating an accepting work environment

So I think that Hans Asperger in many respects had it right.  The strengths of autistic people are essential in Science and Art and I would argue many other fields. I believe that not only must we support autistic people to follow their interests we must also create understanding and acceptance allowing autistic people to be recognized for their skills and abilities. Essentially we must show others the diverse strengths of autistic people and help create understanding and acceptance in work environments and industries everywhere.