Family Opens Car Wash, Hires Mostly People With Autism, And It's Improving Their Symptoms

February 10, 2015

Like many people with autism, Andrew D'Eri had a hard time finding a job. So his father, a veteran entrepreneur, and older brother, who had recently finished business school, had an idea: What business could they start that would thrive employed mostly by people with autism?

car wash autism employees
Rising Tide Car Wash / ABC News

"We wanted to build ... an example big and bold and out there that other companies could go ahead and want to emulate," Tom D'Eri told ABC News, adding that they wanted to find a business that would educate the community by putting autistic employees in front of the customers.

The D'Eris did their research and determined that unemployment is common among people with autism not because they lack skills, but because society views autistic individuals as people to be sympathetic toward rather than valuable people with different skills.

autism car wash
Rising Tide Car Wash / ABC News

"Typically people with autism are really good at structured tasks, following processes, attention to detail," Tom D'Eri said. "So we saw that they're really important skills that people with autism have that make them, in some case, the best employees you can have."

In 2013, the D'Eri family opened up the Rising Tide Car Wash in Parkland, Florida. Today, they employ 35 autistic men and women.

It was Andrew's first job, and though he didn't like it at first, Tom D'Eri said he started noticing positive changes three weeks later. Andrew, 24, had issues with empathy and trying new things in the past, but when his father offered him a bite of a new food - his father's chicken and portobello mushroom sandwich - he tried it and then courteously asked to split it when his dad offered him the whole sandwich.

"Typically, that wouldn't happen," Tom D'Eri said, adding that Andrew also helped people with bags on a plane for the first time after starting work. "There were noticeable differences in his behavior. He was willing to try new things, wanting to empathize more. These are things any family with an autistic child will say, those are really rare things."

The D'Eri family / ABC News

And since many autistic people are bullied in high school, he said working at the car wash helped them build confidence.

"They come to us with very little purpose and very little hope for their future," D'Eri said in the video. "But once they start working with us they start getting positive reinforcement of doing a good job, a customer being happy, getting a tip, that really starts to open them up."

Credit: ABC News

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