Guest post by: Lena Borrelli
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ENABLE Special Needs Planning.
As a teen or young adult with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), your decision to drive is an important one and one that should not be taken lightly. Driving is a vital part of one’s development, giving you newfound independence with access to your community and the world beyond.
Studies from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia shows that two-thirds of adolescents with higher-functioning autism are either interested or have already obtained their driver’s license. One-third of those with autism without an intellectual disability have their driver’s license by 21.
There is no law against driving with autism, but of course, driving is an enormous responsibility that all drivers should take seriously – and particularly when preparing for their licensing exam.
Determining driving readiness
A driver’s license can be your ticket to many advancement opportunities in your life. It can help you socially by enabling you to attend more community activities and help you commit to a steady employment schedule. But it can also be a stressful experience at times.
It is a skill that demands precision and accuracy without much room for hesitation, so it’s crucial that you can adapt quickly to the ever-changing circumstances of the road.
Your doctor can be a great support in helping you decide whether you are ready to drive. Schedule an appointment with them and your parents or guardian, so you can discuss the responsibilities that come with a driver’s license and whether you are ready for them at this time.
6 Questions to Ask
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute’s Center for Autism Research provides a list of questions that you and your parents or guardians can use to decide if you are ready to get behind the wheel.
“Driving a car can be an essential transition for teens moving into adulthood,” says Megan Frazier, an Occupational Therapist Driver Rehab Specialist and owner of Functional Stability and Mobility. “The ability to drive helps teens increase their level of independence, increase access to employment opportunities, healthcare resources, and social interactions with friends and loved ones.”
These are some things you should discuss with your doctor to help you decide if you are ready for your driver’s license.
- Do you consistently demonstrate good judgment and maturity in all facets of your life?
- Are you able to take instruction?
- Are you receptive to constructive criticism?
- Have you adequately prepared in learning and studying the rules of the road?
- Are you willing to practice driving with a licensed driver in the car?
- Do you need medication or treatment before getting behind the wheel?
Preparing To Learn How to Drive
When you are ready to pursue your driver’s license, something that has proven effective is to hire a trained, experienced professional. Not only can they help you navigate road rules to pass your test, but can tailor the experience to your preferred learning style. There are several resources available to help you find a certified autism driving instructor.
Learning how to drive is part-classroom and part-interactive; before you can get behind the wheel, you first must spend time familiarizing yourself with most road rules so you can be sure to safely operate your vehicle.
“In my experience as a pediatrician and parent, inattention and the inability to focus on more than one thing at a time are the biggest stumbling blocks to learning how to drive,” says Dr. Poson, a licensed pediatric physician at Invigor Medical and the former Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine.
“I have found that the best strategy for teaching individuals with ASD to drive is practicing individual routes instead of driving overall. Starting with the route to pass the driving test, then the route to get to a place of employment, and, finally, a social venue,” adds Polson, who has worked with many budding autistic drivers.
After the individual feels comfortable with the route Dr. Polson, suggest introducing distractions to gauge the readiness to drive independently, which can include
- turning on the radio
- talking to the driver
- Asking questions
- Adding a last-minute turn
Safety and auto insurance
Driver’s education courses are not only helpful to your education, but they can also bring you extra savings on your car insurance policy with many providers. Additional instruction decreases your chance of getting in an accident and filing an insurance claim, so insurers are more likely to give back those savings to you through a cheaper monthly insurance premium.
“Many times, a traditional driving school is not a good fit for teens with ASD because they lack medical training in how the teen processes information differently than the traditional driver’s education student,” says Frazier, herself an Occupational Therapist Driver Rehab Specialist. “An evaluation by an Occupational Therapist Driver Rehab Specialist (OT DRS) is a great resource and option for teens with ASD. An OT DRS can evaluate the teen with Autism to determine areas that may be challenging for them as they learn to drive.”
There are also some things that your family can do to help support you while you prepare for your driver’s license.
Focusing on the road ahead
Driving is a heady responsibility for any adult that should be treated with the utmost respect and responsibility. As a driver with autism, there are plenty of resources available to help you and your family while you prepare for your driver’s exam so you can enjoy life behind the wheel that much sooner and, of course, that much safer.
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