Workshop to focus on ‘autism entrepreneurs’

“If you’ve ever thought about starting a business to employ people with autism,” a flier circulating in Tallahassee states, “this workshop is for you.” 

The workshop, “Awakening the Autism Entrepreneur,” is for families and individuals with autism, as well as other individuals interested in starting — or adapting — a business to provide job opportunities for people on the autism spectrum. 

The workshop will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, at the Aquilina C. Howell Building, 3955 W. Pensacola St., Tallahassee. 

“We talk about autism not as a disability but as a potential competitive advantage for businesses,” said Michael Alessandri, one of the workshop’s presenters, in an interview earlier this year. “People with autism are highly reliable and with the right support can be very productive.” 

Alessandri is executive director of CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disabilities) at the University of Miami. Florida State’s own CARD center, part of the College of Medicine’s Autism Institute, is hosting the workshop. 

“We hope this event can help generate more meaningful and productive opportunities for individuals on the autism spectrum and businesses in our community,” said Catherine Zenko, FSU CARD’s new director. 

CARD describes autism spectrum disorder as a neurodevelopmental disorder defined by persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction, accompanied by restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities. Many people see that as a disadvantage. But in a job that’s repetitive and highly regimented, Alessandri points out, a person with autism can be perfect. 

Take a job in a car wash, for example. Two other South Florida presenters at the workshop, Tom D’Eri and Tom Sena, are “autism entrepreneurs” at Rising Tide Car Wash — where more than three-fourths of the employees have some form of autism. D’Eri’s brother, Andrew, is one of them.   

“Our mission is to change the paradigm of how the world thinks of people with disabilities,” Alessandri said. “We think of them as people with unique abilities, and we need to create employment opportunities that embrace their uniqueness and strengths.” 

The workshop is free and open to the public, but limited to the first 80 registrants. Breakfast and lunch will be provided. Sign up at