The Exceptional Value that People with Autism Bring to Business with Tom D’Eri | POP 806

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A photo of Tom D'Eri is captured. He is the Co-Founder and COO of Rising Tide Car Wash. Tom is featured on the Practice of the Practice, a therapist podcast.

Do you want employees who are truly invested in your business systems? What value can employees with autism bring to your business? How can you improve your hiring process?

In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok interviews Tom D’Eri about the incredible value of hiring employees with autism.

Podcast Sponsor: Pillars of Practice

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Meet Tom D’Eri

A photo of Tom D'Eri is captured. He is the Co-Founder and COO of Rising Tide Car Wash. Tom is featured on the Practice of the Practice, a therapist podcast.

Tom D’Eri has dedicated his career to unleashing human potential by creating organizational systems and cultures that empower people to grow. Tom is the Co-Founder and COO of Rising Tide Car Wash, an organization that employs over 90 individuals with autism in a successful car wash business.

Tom D’Eri is a Forbes 30 Under 30 social entrepreneur and the forthcoming author of The Power of Potential: How a Non-Traditional Workforce Can Lead You to Run Your Business Better.

Visit Rising Tide Car Wash, Rising Tide U, and connect on Facebook and LinkedIn.

FREEBIE: Read The Power Of Potential E-Book!

In This Podcast

  • The Value of Hiring Neurodiverse Employees
  • False Biases Around Autism
  • What Makes Neurodiverse People Such Excellent Employees
  • How Hiring Neurodiverse People has Helped Tom’s Business
  • Tom D’Eri’s Advice for Private Practitioners

The Value of Hiring Neurodiverse Employees

Tom founded his car wash business with the goal to support people who are on the spectrum or have autism.

However, he realized that he had little experience working with automobiles and that he would need to have strong practice systems in place to support his business.

The value of hiring people with autism is that they tend to be very detail-oriented. This proved invaluable to Tom because they were very quick to notice which elements of the business needed to be improved.

Because we had this unique population that we were really dedicated to empowering, we were able to build really good systems.

Tom D’Eri

False Biases Around Autism

A big challenge for people with autism is the interview process.

Their neurodivergent social cues are different from our neurotypical social cues. 

Tom D’Eri

This proves a problem in the interview process because interviewers tend to form assumptions about the interviewee based on their social cues, and not on their skill set.

You tend to miss out on great talent because we’re measuring talent ineffectively.

Tom D’Eri

Another false belief is that people with autism don’t work well with others – and that they are best suited to independent work. This is wholly untrue. Building an inclusive environment will foster social interactions between any group of people. 

What Makes Neurodiverse People Such Excellent Employees

What we find with our team members is that if we provide really clear guidance on what is expected in a role, provide the right tools, and the right ways to get that done, our employees with autism are the best team members you could ask for.

Tom D’Eri

People with autism tend to follow a process and rules much more effectively than neurotypical persons. They also tend to be more engaged with their work and to stay working at the business for longer.

At Tom’s car wash, the employee turnover is around 20% per year, whereas, at other carwashes, it tends to be over 100%, which gives him a more stable workforce. 

How Hiring Neurodiverse People has Helped Tom’s Business

  1. It has helped Tom to hire objectively – and not based on biases.
  2. It has helped him to build clarity in the workplace – especially with regard to business systems.
  3. It has helped him to build a developmental business culture. Tom’s business is dedicated to coaching and training all of his employees.
  4. It has helped him to design a business model which allows even the most difficult employees to thrive. This has had the advantage of creating an inclusive business model – where employees feel both safe and accountable.

This all culminates in creating a customer experience that is really great.

Tom D’Eri

Tom D’Eri’s Advice for Private Practitioners

Your most challenging employees can be your best insight into building a successful business model.

Books mentioned in this episode:

Useful Links mentioned in this episode:

Check out these additional resources:

Meet Joe Sanok

A photo of Joe Sanok is displayed. Joe, private practice consultant, offers helpful advice for group practice owners to grow their private practice. His therapist podcast, Practice of the Practice, offers this advice.

Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.

Thanks For Listening!

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Podcast Transcription

[JOE SANOK] This is the Practice of the Practice Podcast with Joe Sanok, session number 806. Welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast. I’m Joe Sanok, your host, and every single podcast we’re covering all sorts of things around starting, growing, scaling, and maybe exiting your private practice. We’re covering lots of great issues and topics this fall. If you have not caught our last month or so we covered all sorts of things like adding executive assistance to your practice self-doubt, archetypes, the mental wellness diet, SEO trends, branding for therapists, all sorts of really great issues. If you missed any of those shows at the beginning of October you’re going to want to make sure you go back and check those out because we had a ton of really great interviews during early October. I’m so excited today. We are hanging out with Tom D’eri. Tom is the co-founder and COO of Rising Tide Carwash, a social enterprise that employs over 90 individuals with autism in a successful carwash business. He’s also the co-founder of Rising Tide U, an organization dedicated to teaching others how to create better organizational systems by designing for extreme users. Tom’s a Forbes 30 under 30 social entrepreneur and the forthcoming author of The Power of Potential: How A Non-Traditional Workforce Can Lead You to Run Your Business Better. Tom, welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast. So excited to have you here today. [TOM D’ERI] I’m so excited to be here, Joe. [JOE] Yes, well, so it’s funny because sometimes my assistant will schedule things in and I looked at your bio and was like, carwash? Then I saw, oh, you employ people that oftentimes are working with like the folks that you know I’m working with as well. Tell me, how did you get into starting a carwash that specifically employs people on the autism spectrum? [TOM] Yes, I think if you had talked to my younger self and said, you’re going to start a carwash organization, I probably would’ve looked at you like I had two heads also. But we started this business because my brother Andrew is on the autism spectrum, and as he was aging out of the school system my father, who’s also an entrepreneur and had been an entrepreneur for many years at this point, was starting to struggle with, well, what will Andrew do after he’s done with school? I mean, that’s a problem many people both professionals and families who work with individuals with autism struggle with. The fact is there’s not a lot of great opportunities. What we found really quickly was that we were going to have to provide a solution in order for Andrew to lead the full adult life that we knew he was capable of. At that point, we put our business hats on and tried to understand, well, what can Andrew do? What business models would be successful, leveraging Andrew and hopefully many other people with autism skills? We looked at a bunch of different business models and really loved the car wash. We loved the car wash because it’s very systematized, very detail oriented and routine work that works really well for Andrew. It works well for many people with autism and we felt that we might have an advantage over other car washes because most car washes, and frankly most businesses that work with lots of entry level staff have struggled to find quality and consistent employees. We thought, hey, maybe people with autism could bring that to the table. And we also might be able to build a brand that resonates with people beyond what your normal local carwash brand resonates with. So that kicked off our journey and we’ve been doing it now for about 10 years. We’ve got our three locations in South Florida and Broward County employing about 90 people with autism, which is roughly 80% of our staff. [JOE] Wow. Now, when you first started, what challenges did you experience and then how did you overcome those? Because to be able to now have 80% of your staff be on the spectrum, I mean, what an amazing thing but what were some challenges? What were some ways that you overcame that? [TOM] Well we had a lot of challenges. I think most resonant is, and we had no idea what we were doing from a perspective of providing a really high-quality car wash service to the community. We weren’t from the industry. I was one of those people that would get my car washed once somebody wrote an expletive on the back, or, and I certainly couldn’t turn a wrench either, which pretty unfortunate considering this business relies a lot on equipment. Essentially, it’s a big robot with air systems and hydraulic systems and electrical systems and I didn’t know anything about any of that. What was really interesting though was that our employees with autism helped us identify a lot of the issues that we were facing really fast, much faster than I think your typical set of employees at a carwash would’ve. We attribute that to the idea that people with autism are essentially extreme users of organizational systems. So they have the same needs as any employee would have, but their needs tend to be easier to see more pronounced. Because of that, it makes it easier to design solutions and identify what solutions need to be designed. Then when you design systems for your extreme users, you end up designing better systems for everybody. Really early on we recognize that, hey, we might have strong, we knew we needed strong processes to actually clean the vehicles, like how do we do our interior cleanings? But what we didn’t realize was that we needed strong processes for every aspect of the operation, from the way that we turn the lights on in the morning, to the way that we guide cars into the interior cleaning bay, to the way that we take a customer’s receipt and keys and keep the services organized, every aspect of it. Because we had this unique population that we were really dedicated to empowering, we’re able to build really good systems in our opinion at least, and systems that have allowed us to scale and provide a great customer and employee experience. [JOE] Yes, I would imagine that when you’ve systematized that much, that the ability to replicate that and to expand into multiple locations, I would guess would get easier and easier because you’ve already done all that difficult work. Whereas most people that have one location for anything, whether it’s a counseling practice or a car wash a lot of times it’s just pure hustle that gets you through it instead of systems whereas if you’re creating these systems for every aspect of it, I mean, that seems like it would be easier to replicate. [TOM] Certainly. I mean, when you look at the systems that we’ve produced for a small car wash chain, I would put them up against the most sophisticated car wash chains, largest car wash chains in the industry. When we talk to this different software providers that we work with, that work with others in our industry, they tend to be pretty impressed with how well, how much thought we’ve put into these systems. I like to say that again, it’s not just the thought, it’s the actual, you have a wonderful use case in finding an employee who might be struggling in a certain area and then designing something around their needs, which then works well for everybody else. [JOE] What do you think are some biases that the average business may have against hiring people with autism that you’ve found to not be true? [TOM] Yes, I mean, not only the autism, or not only the business community, but there’s even biases I think within the autism community. We have these ideas that just, let’s take for example the interview process because that’s tends to be the biggest barrier for employment for people with autism. Their neuro divergent social cues are different than our neurotypical social cues. They tend to not value eye contact, may have not the strongest handshake, may not have the best posture or the best small talk skills. Unfortunately, most interviews, particularly like unstructured traditional interviews where I’m getting to know you type thing, and we don’t have a set list of questions, a set scoring rubric set way to engage skillset, you end up just saying, do I like this person? The studies show that within 10 seconds of meeting that person, you tend to form your opinion already about them and at that point you’re just validating through the rest of the interview your initial high assumptions about them. People without autism tend to fare really poorly in that process. So you certainly end up missing out on a lot of great talent because we’re measuring talent totally ineffectively in those interviews. That also I think, attributes to the fact that also, the research is showing that about 50% of new hires fail within the first six to 18 months. So that shows that the process is not good. What, what other process would you allow to have a 50% success rate in your business? It’s pretty staggering. [JOE] I mean that, wow, so the interview process, you’d say there’s a lot of bias there. What are other assumptions maybe about within the job itself of people on the spectrum that you would say you found to be incorrect? [TOM] One, and I think it’s pervasive is that people with autism don’t want to or don’t work well with others. They have to do independent work. We’re finding that that’s just simply not true. Other employers, people with autism are also finding that it’s just not true. People with autism are very happy and tend to want to have social interactions. They just want to have social interactions with people who are like them and who have similar interests, similar ways of seeing the world just like everybody else. So when you create a an inclusive environment that is accepting of their differences, my team members love to work with each other and can be some of the best teammates you could possibly want for. [PILLARS OF PRACTICE] We brought together all of our checklists, videos, and other free things in one spot so you don’t have to opt-in all over the place just to get another checklist. We’ve put it all together over at Whether you’re just getting started or we’re having established group therapy practice, we have a free e-course for you as well. We have eight-minute experts, which are short eight-minute videos around specific topics completely free. So if you want to take your practice to the next level, head on over to to get access to our free e-courses. Again, that’s to get all of those free e-courses. [JOE SANOK] Now, what’s your interview process look like if you’re not doing the standard one, like if I was to just sit there and watch a typical interview, what would that look like? [TOM] We tend to do both what we call job inter or job auditions as well as structured interviews. So a job audition, for our entry level roles, our associate roles where the team members are actually physically working on cars, drying them down, vacuuming them, air tooling out the nooks and crevices, doing the windows for those roles, we bring them out into the work environment. We test the basic ability to follow directions, to clean a window, to vacuum that gives us, we’re able to, we use like an iPad-based scorecard to identify how well they do at each of those different skills. It spits out a score at the end. It also not only helps us get like a true estimation of the team member or the candidate’s ability to follow directions to physically do the work it also shows the candidate like, hey, do I actually want to do this? Is this in a work environment that I would like to be in? Then we also use these structured interviews, which I alluded to earlier, where we’re going to have the same questions, they’re a set standard set of questions with a scoring rubric associated with each set of questions. We like to do those with at least two interviewers, ideally three that way we get a few different people scoring it at the same time that can even out a structured interview doesn’t necessarily eliminate biases. It just makes them, it allows you to check them a bit more effectively so when you have multiple people doing these interviews, it it makes it where those biases can cancel each other out a little. [JOE] So when you’re onboarding new employees you’ve got the processes that they’re learning. What are other things that help that might be unique to this population that helps them be successful? [TOM] I think what we find with our team members is that if we provide really clear guidance on what is expected in the role, provide the right tools and the right ways to get that work done, our employees with autism are the best team members you could ask for in those roles. We’re not the only ones finding that either. There’s many people who are employing people with autism who are seeing that these employees, this talent pool tends to follow process and systems and rules much more effectively than the average employee. They tend to be more engaged, they tend to stay longer. Some of the most interesting ones, at least for our work environment that we see are that our team members turn over about one fifth to one eighth as regularly as other car washes. So where we have approximately 20% annual turnover, the normal car washes anywhere between 100% and 200% turnover annually. So we have a much more stable workforce. We also and I’m going to knock on wood as I say this, but we’ve never had in about 10 years of work here, we’ve never had a workman’s comp safety claim with our team members with autism. That’s something that’s rampant in this industry because there is lots of moving parts. We’ve got cars moving all over the place, you’ve got equipment and it can be dangerous if people aren’t following the rules. We find our team members do an excellent job there. And I think more broadly, they’re really excited to work and to prove themselves much more so than your average person working in an entry level role. Our customers feel that, our management feels that, and it just creates an experience that’s both for our whole team as well as for our customers, that is different than I think most other car washes. [JOE] Well, I’m really interested in hearing the application beyond your business with your book, the Power of Potential. Take us through just some of the concepts of the book and maybe how we could apply this to private practices to other businesses. Because I’m picturing the average therapist they might be working with a family where someone in the family has autism, they might be working with a business leader, they might be working with all sorts of different folks that could advocate in a different way if they understood this sort of mentality or approach to running your business. So how do you see this being applicable beyond car washes into the greater industries that are out there in regards to the power of potential? [TOM] I wrote this book as a way to share a few core learnings that we’ve had that I think are just generally applicable to building both an inclusive business as well as one that works well for the small business owner and leader just makes the business work better. So what we’ve found was that there are really four core problems that our team members with autism have helped us solve that have made the business really work and be a high volume successful car wash chain. The first is how to hire objectively, which we’ve talked a bit about already. The next is how to build clarity into the workplace. Those things are having really clear systems and processes and visuals throughout the workplace is needed for everyone to do their best work. Building a developmental culture. So one where we are dedicated to coaching and training and developing our team members, all of our team members, not just the ones who we typically say these are the high performers, but building that into the fabric of the organization creates some really wonderful benefits, which I’ll talk about in a second. Then one that I think is counterintuitive is that you’re designing for your most difficult employees. So you’re, we call them extreme users, but you might look at them sometimes in every business has these, someone who’s struggling, someone who oh, is just not doing a great job, is frustrating you, is making errors, looking at them not as somebody who you need to necessarily replace, but somebody who can help you design a business and design a system that works better for your entire team. When we do these things, we find that it really boosts the psychological safety of everybody in the work environment so people feel safe to fail, safe to try and stretch themselves safe to voice issues. There’s a level of accountability that is different because we’ve made it really clear of what the expectations are. We’ve given everybody the tools they need to be successful. Now it’s much easier and much more ethical to hold people accountable as well as a much greater sense of purpose within the work environment. This all culminates in a customer experience that is really great, both from a consistency of the service that’s provided and also bringing them into a mission that’s more than just getting a car wash or getting whatever service that they may be be looking for. So I think it, these things tend to work well. I also think that people with autism tend to be really good candidates for just about any role as long as the organization is designed well, whether that be a leadership role, whether it be any type of entry level role. There’s so many different examples at this point that I believe that one, organizational systems are set properly. People with autism can be an exceptional workforce and are a very widely available workforce for any organization that’s struggling to find talent, which is a lot, a lot of organizations right now we’re still looking at somewhere between 65% and 80% unemployment among people with autism. So there’s we have, it’s interesting to see, we’ve never had any talent shortage issues. We have these three car washes within five miles of each other. I have other friends that run car washes in the area and are, some of them are shutting down their interior cleaning departments or limiting those hours because they simply can’t find help. We’re able to have a wait list of people that are looking for employment which is a huge advantage. We’ve able to really staff these things with engaged team members who stay with us long enough to make the training investments worthwhile and build a brand that customers love. [JOE] When I think about application to my audience, I know that your wife has a private practice, I would love to know, and this may be outside your expertise, but if you were working with a therapist with a private practice that wanted to take what you’re teaching, what you’ve experienced in your business where would you start? What would they need to look at within their business? What sort of job roles do you think could fit within this population? Like where would people start if they hear what you’re saying and they’re like, Tom, I like this. I don’t even know where to start. Where would you have them start? [TOM] I think, so from a, like a which job? It’s the job that you’re having the most difficulty hiring for? I would say that whether it be front desk or, I mean, obviously, with most of the people who are running private practices, there’s a, some sort of clinical requirement, so it may be difficult to find clinicians that are on the autism spectrum. So if we leave out that actual clinical role, any of the support functions in the office, I think would work really well. I think that what I would do first is really try to build the right culture first because if we do that, then we’ll be much more effective in empowering people with autism and really empowering any of your staff. One thing I find really interesting or a couple things with the private practice that my wife works at and just private practices in general is that we see, I think sometimes with the hiring we get so myopically focused on the skillset that the person brings, like they have the right credentials, like let’s hire them. That makes it really difficult to build strong culture and consistent client experience when we haven’t really vetted someone for the shared values and for the type of character traits that we’re looking for in a team member. So I think that building an objective hiring process that isn’t just solely focused on credentials, I think is really important than documenting every aspect of your business, making it clear what the expectations are and how to meet those expectations. Another interesting one, I think, at least for my wife’s work, because she’s a speech pathologist, it’s not quite the same thing, but building a really great training program for early career clinicians is very attractive. I mean, my wife chose her practice and some of her friends chose their practices because there was an opportunity to continue professional development. I think when you do that, you make those investments in people. Not only does it help them perform better in the, in the organization, but it helps you attract really great early career talent. So I would say those things are really where I would start building a good objective hiring process, documenting things, building great training. [JOE] Yes, I even think about all the marketing that goes into a private practice, so scheduling out social media posts designing infographics or things like that, that if a clinician takes the time to really walk through what is step-by-step this look like, which would be beneficial for any staff. Of course, someone that’s on the spectrum is going to want those clear objectives, but that’s beneficial for anyone to just say we want to have this type of news article put on our Facebook feed every Monday, this kind on every Wednesday and to just start to think through like, what are the specific systems that operate our marketing behind the scenes. That seems like a tremendous opportunity, especially if so many people are in need of jobs. In a job market where it seems like hiring’s pretty tough this seems like a really great system and approach that you’ve developed with your business. What are some of the final takeaways that you would say you want people to think through, maybe it could be advocacy, pushing back on on different mindsets? What haven’t we covered that you think it’s really important that we hit on as we conclude this interview? [TOM] I think that the, you touched on something there where like if we do these certain things, we set these certain conditions, we’re really specific about what this role entails that’ll be able to effectively support neuro divergent team members, really any team member like you said. What’s interesting and what I think I would at least what we hope we’re going to get across with the book, the Power of potential is that people with autism can be your best allies in doing that. So if you work with, let’s say maybe you have a client who is looking for work who’s on the autism spectrum, that person may be able to help you really design those systems by you committing to empowering them. What do they need to be effective in this role and taking that user first approach to designing that role will not only help the business support that person, but will help the business just build a better organizational structure which will support everybody. My idea with the way that we wrote this book was to bake in these like core practices that you can do, whether you have an autism employment program or not. But I really truly believe that building that program can be probably one of the most, if not the most effective ways to reimagine the way that you build your organization. There’s such a need and I know many of your listeners are directly connected to this community, so it’s a really great win-win situation to try to employ a few people with autism, build a prototype, which we cover with in the book, how would you go about building that prototype and start just try even if it’s one or two people. I think not only will you be having an impact, but you’ll be making your business better. [JOE] That’s so great. The last question that I ask is, if every private practitioner in the world were listening right now, what would you want them to know? [TOM] That your most challenging employees can be your best insight to building a better organization? We all struggle sometimes and it’s easy to write someone off and say this person’s just not a good fit. But if we dig a little deeper and we try to understand the context around why they’re having difficulty, we’ll often uncover insights that will lead you to better support that team member as well as learn about the deficiencies in your business that are right there to fix. [JOE] So, awesome. Tom, if people want to connect with you, if they want to read your book, what’s the best way for them to do that? [TOM] They can go right to our website at There’s a page right there. It tells them all about the book as well as some other additional resources for building these types of things. To get in touch with me, they can get in touch with me on that website too. [JOE] Perfect. Well Tom, thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice Podcast. [TOM] Thank you, Joe. It was a pleasure. [JOE] I love finding stories that are related but not necessarily direct to the private practice world. I hope that your antennas are up over people doing really interesting work to better the world. Sure, we’re doing private practice, we’re doing counseling, but really at our core, aren’t we doing something bigger than just having a business, having a private practice, making money at counseling? We are trying to create a world that’s better help people heal from stuff, be able to plan out a better life, to change and create things that maybe weren’t there before we were involved in the world. I love hearing stories like what Tom just shared with us about how his brother couldn’t find a good quality job and so he and his father put together this carwash business. How cool is that? Really, we couldn’t do this show without our sponsors. is the leading e-course for you when you’re starting a practice or when you’re growing a practice. You can get free eight-minute videos that it’s eight-minute experts that will help you level up around a number of different topics. You’ll get free checklists and all sorts of other things that will help you start your practice or grow it totally free over at Thank you so much for letting us into your ears and into your brain. Have a great day. I’ll talk to you soon. Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for that intro music. This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the producers, the publishers or guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.