John D'Eri wanted to create a business where his autistic 21-year-old son, Andrew, could work and thrive. So John, along with his other son, Thomas, founded the Rising Tide Car Wash in Parkland, which opened last week. With 35 autistic employees, the company claims to be the "largest single-store retail employer of individuals with autism in the U.S." and one of the largest overall employers of people with autism, according to a news release.
Autism Works says unemployment among adults is hard to quantify since the disease has spiked only in the past two decades, but in 2010, the proportion of people with disabilities aged 16 to 65 who were working was less than one-half that of people without a disability (29 percent versus 64 percent), based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And in 2009, the percent of young adults with autism who had a job was about half that of all young adults with disabilities.
Because autistic individuals crave repetition and structure, Rising Tide broke down the car-washing process into 46 distinct steps that its employees can master and repeat. They work in mirror image with each other on opposite sides of the car they are washing. Rising Tide consulted with Sonny's Enterprises (the maker of car wash systems) and Nova Southeastern University's Center for Autism and Related Disabilities to develop its business model. All employees have to go through a 25-hour training program developed with Car Wash College.
John D'Eri says, "By leveraging the talents of individuals with autism, we are turning a disability into a successful business strategy."
He said he intends to expand across the country. "We anticipate that Rising Tide will be the premium brand in the car wash industry and grow to be a nationwide movement with many locations."
The car wash opened April 6 at 7201 N. State Road 7 in Parkland and is open seven days a week. Prices range from $5 to $35. Visit risingtidecarwash.com.