August 12, 2020
Workers with Disabilities
The D'Eri family started their car wash business partly to employ son Andrew (center), who has autism.
Workers with Disabilities
Autism Shifts trains baristas to work at its Artistas Cafe.

Workers with Disabilities

Rising Tide of Hope

Nancy Dahlberg | 4/2/2019

Many customers of the Rising Tide Car Wash’s two South Florida locations don’t know the business has 83 workers with autism — 90% of its workforce. That’s fine with John D’Eri, who cofounded Rising Tide with his son Thomas. “You come because you get a good wash.”

D’Eri was searching for a business he could start to employ his son Andrew, who has autism, and others like him. The sequential, repetitive aspects of the car wash process provide the kind of structured environment favored by many with autism. The business services about 825 cars a day, with an 8% annual employee turnover rate that is far better than the industry norm, says D’Eri.

The D’Eris have created an online course to help parents who want to start businesses for their children. Now they also are looking to develop concepts that scale more easily than car washes, which are capital intensive to develop.

“If we come up with that, then parents will say ‘I’ll try it,’ ” says D’Eri. “The best thing about Rising Tide’s success is that it is a success story. It provides hope.”

Creating a Ready Workforce

Vicky Westra left her 20-plus year corporate career to start Tampa-based non-profit Autism Shifts. As a parent of a daughter with autism, she knew that as autistic children reach adulthood, they are likely to be unemployed and dependent on others.

Autism Shifts trains people to become baristas and work for Artistas Cafe. That became a model for Autism Shifts’ work with employers in other industries, Westra says. “We can train the employees for you and make sure their skills, abilities and passions match the jobs you are looking for and then we can give you really good employees.”

In addition to an Artistas Cafe food truck, Autism Shifts has an animation program and a digital media class and is creating a culinary program with four companies.

Change can’t happen without the community, Westra says. “We are hoping one day to see autism with a whole other outcome than we are seeing today.”


  • 2%: Approximate percentage of all children diagnosed with autism
  • 50,000: Number of children with autism who turn 18 annually
  • 70%-90%: Estimated rate of unemployed or underemployed adults with autism
  • 50%: Percentage of 25-yearold adults with autism who have never held a job
  • 70%: Percentage of adults with autism in dependent living situations
  • $268 billion: Cost of caring for Americans with autism in 2015 (estimated to reach $461 billion in 2025)

Source: Autism Speaks, CDC, Autism Shifts

Tags: Economic Backbone, Workers with Disabilities

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