Learning to drive is a milestone achievement that opens doors to greater independence. It allows one to get to work, social events, or leisure activities without having to rely on someone or something else to get you there.
Learning how to drive is associated with a greater sense of self-esteem. But for those with autism, learning to drive may be more difficult than it is for others. This is because a variety of skills that may be impaired in individuals with ASD are required for driving, such as fine and gross motor skills, sustained attention, cognitive flexibility, planning, impulse control, and social perception. Nonetheless, one in three teens with autism, without intellectual disability, earns their driver license – proving that it is an achievable goal. In addressing a driver’s concerns head on, the driver may learn to overcome these fears and become a fully competent and safe driver.
In making the decision on whether or not your loved one should begin learning how to drive, it is important to look at their strengths and weaknesses, and how you think these would relate to driving. Family members are often the best equipped to initially evaluate an individual’s ability to learn how to drive. However, this decision should not be made alone. Consult with your their IEP (or individualized education plan) if they have one. If not, consult with your community vocational rehabilitation services, or even your local driving school. From there, your teen will be able to receive a professional evaluation for driving readiness
If it is determined that your teen is ready to learn how to drive, then there are plenty of resources that can help them achieve this goal. Programs that work with driver’s with special needs tend to focus on their individual skills. This is often accomplished with the help of occupational therapists or driving instructors with special training in working with drivers with special needs.
Social interaction is one of the concerns addressed in the driving program run by Marionjoy Hospital in Dupage County, Illinois. Research shows that traffic violations tend to be higher in drivers with autism. This can pose a problem as social impairments make it difficult to interact with police officers. But through training specifically designed to help drivers learn how to interact with police officers, Marionjoy’s program effectively increases the safety of both drivers and police officers in the community.
This program also increases the education of police officers. While it is important to teach those with autism how to interact in society, it is also important for those in public service to be able to interact with all members of the public. This program works directly with officers of the DuPage police department and provides them with information needed to work with people with special needs.
If your community does not have a similar program it is important to educate your driver on the importance of effective communication. This can be facilitated by the use of an autism identification card to alert authorities to possible communication difficulties they may face in working with an individual.
The decision to begin driver’s education may be intimidating for many families of an individual with autism. Nonetheless, by looking into community programs for support, it is one that can lead to more independence and self-confidence. For more information, feel free to contact our Help Hotline to discover resources near you.