Three years ago, when Thomas D’Eri graduated from business school, his brother Andrew was about to experience what many people in the autism community call “falling off the cliff.”
At age 21, Andrew would no longer qualify for public education and his family would face the uncertain maze of finding resources to support him in the next phase of his life.
For adults who have autism spectrum disorder, quality day programs are rare and gainful employment is even rarer — 68 percent of adults with autism are unemployed. After years of gaining skills in school, many adults with autism end up staying in their parents’ home and regressing in their abilities.
Thomas, the chief operating officer, and John, the chief executive officer, spent a year developing Rising Tide, seeking expertise from people in the car wash business and from professionals who train and support people with disabilities in the workplace. They chose to create a car wash because Andrew, and many people with autism, can best learn through familiar routines and repetition.
At Rising Tide, there is a sense of excitement and enthusiasm about the employees’ daily responsibilities. Everyone shows up for work and so far, no one has quit.
“I have responsibility now and people rely on me. I feel a bit better about myself, I’m more confident and I talk to people better,” employee Brandon Rogers said.
Of Rising Tide’s 43 employees, 35 are diagnosed as on the autism spectrum. The company offers training that includes a focus on team building — something that does not come naturally for most people who have autism, a developmental disorder that impairs both communication and understanding of social cues.
“Our employees aren’t just workers — they’re professionals,” Thomas said. “As we help them transform their natural talent, working within a structure that’s familiar to them, our employees build confidence and hone their abilities.” Since working at the car wash, Thomas has observed his brother being much more open to social situations, from interactions with customers to operating as a team with co-workers.
The D’Eris are also conscious of the impact of their business in raising awareness about autism among their customer base, especially in showcasing the ways that adults with autism can be capable, responsible employees. “By running a successful local business built around the unique strengths of people with autism, we visibly demonstrate every single day how this diverse group brings tremendous value to the workplace,” he said. His hope is that the success of Rising Tide will inspire other businesses to create structured, interactive environments that bring out the unique abilities of people with autism. The D’Eri’s business plan includes expanding to three locations and ultimately employing 150 people on the autism spectrum. l