On the Job with Tim Hanson

  • Article by: LAURA FRENCH
  • Updated: July 15, 2013 - 9:02 AM

Tim Hanson with his son Joe, “a great kid, very bright”.

Photo: TOM WITTA • Star Tribune,

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Tim Hanson founded and runs a successful IT contracting company. Now he’s become a man with a mission. He’s the local coordinator for the Midwest U.S. operation of Specialisterne, a company headquartered in Denmark with an eight-year track record of employing people with autism in IT, telecommunications and engineering.

“I’m a preacher’s kid from Crookston, Minnesota,” Hanson said. “Dad suggested going into the ministry. I said I wanted to try my hand at business, but I could go into the ministry later.”

For Hanson, the mission is personal. His oldest son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). “When we found out that he had autism, I had a difficult time with that,” Hanson said. “My wife was very practical. She said, ‘Now we know what we’re dealing with, and we can deal with it. He’s the same kid as before the diagnosis.’”

Now 19, Joe is “a great kid, very bright, very nice looking. His expressive language is the biggest deficit,” Hanson said.

When he read an article about Specialisterne, he contacted the CEO and said, “Let us do a feasibility study — is there a market in the U.S. for the services? What are prevailing billing rates? Can the Danish model be adapted to at least break-even?”

Hanson has spent the last two years “working hard to get an office up here.” In June, he got funding and employer support to launch operations in Fargo, ND. “I want to use Fargo as the testing ground — once we’re up and running in Fargo, I think the forces in the Twin Cities are going to be more eager to move forward,” Hanson said. “We are creating taxpayers. Who would be against that? We all benefit.”

Why are people with ASD successful in IT and engineering careers?

People on the autism spectrum can absorb and process vastly more information than neurotypical people. They can do it with very low error rates and for long periods of time repetitively. Tasks like quality assurance testing are easier for them. They are looking at a vast amount of information, looking for patterns and aberrations.

Why do people with ASD need an organization like Specialisterne?

If someone on the autism spectrum is working full time, they don’t need us. But 90 percent of adults with autism wind up on Social Security and Medicaid. Neither program is over-funded, and they’re never going to be able to live alone on that. That’s the beauty of this business model: It’s self-sustaining. We get a tremendous number of inquiries from people who graduated from high school, scored 800 on math on the ACT, but scored low in English. They have trouble interviewing, and they can’t get a job. We provide a job coach who interacts with the management of the client firm. The coach is present during the orientation with that particular specialist. They share with the client: “Every hour or so, Joe likes to get up and walk around for about 5 minutes. If he does that, don’t be alarmed. Don’t use sarcasm or irony. He won’t pick up on it. He likes to sing sometimes when he’s working.” As long as manager is aware of it, we can circumvent some of the things that prevent these folks from working successfully. We want to focus on what they can do, not on the diagnosis they got then they were three.

For more information on Specialisterne, go to: www.specialisterne.com.

ON THE JOB: jobslink@startribune.com

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