There’s no feeling in the world like slipping behind the wheel of a car, and having some more control over your freedom. All parents have some fear about putting their child in control of a motor vehicle, especially if that child has a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
It may be more complex to teach a young person with an ASD to drive, but that is by no means a reason not to allow them to try. Research recently carried out by Dr Daniel J. Cox, Youth-Nex associate director, University of Virginia professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, Internal Medicine, and Ophthalmology; and Ann Lambert, post-doctoral fellow, Virginia Driving Safety Laboratory, University of Virginia Medical Centre, shows that most drivers with an ASD were more careful and were involved in less collisions on the road after they getting a full licence.
Here’s a quick guide of what you need to know before you get behind the wheel.
In both the UK and America, the first big step is applying for for the provisional licence. This can be done at the age of 16 in America, or 17 in the UK. Young people as young as 14 can legally drive in the US if there are exceptional circumstances, they may apply for a Hardship licenses for minors. These are restricted to drivers between 14 and 15, but sometimes up to 18, years old who need to drive to and from home and school due to serious hardships, for example the driver’s family has financial or medical problems; the driver needs to get to work or school and has no other practical way of getting there.
In America applications are made through the state in which you intend to drive.
Any medical disorders must be disclosed on the application form. This includes any ASD diagnosis. Young people who are planning to learn and apply for a provisional licence must get a doctor to approve that they are physically able drive.
Learning to Drive
Learning to master a motor vehicle comes with new language, and new routines. These pose some difficulty for youngsters without ASDs, and even adults who have been driving a number of years. There are a number of driving schools which cater specifically for individuals with ASD’s, and take extra time in role playing situations which may be difficult for an ASD individual.
Learning to drive in the same car should also be helpful, as using a number of different cars could be difficult for an individual who likes routine.
A parent teaching their child to drive should follow these guidelines set out by Dr Cox’s study:
- Use practice and repetition. Parents suggested that regular, sustained driving experiences had been useful. Several indicated that, compared to typically developing siblings, their son/daughter with high functioning Autism required twice the practice to acquire adequate skill levels. They also suggested that, when an error occurs, it is beneficial to provide an immediate opportunity to go back and correct the mistake.
- Teach skills in small steps. Breaking down each skill into individual steps rather than in combination was considered helpful.
- Use video games and other driving-like experiences before trying to drive a car. Microsoft Xbox 360 and other video games were cited by a number of parents as a precursor to successful driving. Several also suggested that experiences driving go-carts, riding mowers, tractors, etc., had provided a good basis for learning to drive a car.
- Parents reported that talking through (or providing a visual map of) the route to be taken and the potential hazards to be encountered was helpful for their son/daughter.
- Be calm/patient. Parents repeatedly cited how important it was for them to stay calm while teaching their son/daughter to drive. Several indicated that, because they were unable to do so, they sought driving instruction professionals. Professionals with experience teaching individuals with special needs appear to have had reasonable success.
Talk to people within your community that have experienced learning or teaching an individual with an ASD to drive, share experiences.
High Functioning Autistic and vlogger Arman Khodaei was nineteen when he passed his test on the fourth sitting. He has a number of vlogs on Youtube, for those of you still nervous about taking the first steps.