Driving with autism: what you should be aware of

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While learning to drive may be something most people take for granted, it might feel like an obstacle for those with autism. Read on to learn what might and might not be challenging for you or your teen when it comes to driving.

Even under the best circumstances, driving can be a difficult task. There’s a constantly changing environment to consider, including weather conditions, traffic signs and other drivers on the road. However, it’s important to know that once the driver, autistic or not, understands the rules of the road and the basics of operating a vehicle, driving becomes much simpler.

“Some autistic people may find the skill of driving extremely difficult, whilst others will be highly competent. A diagnosis of (autism spectrum disorder) should not in itself be a barrier to holding a license,” says Autism.org.

To help you or your loved one prepare, here are several things to consider and know as you attempt to navigate the driving world.

Studies show chances for success

Several studies have been conducted within the last decade to discover how many autistic persons are actually able to obtain and successfully use a driver’s license.

Autistic teens who drive fared better than their peers in that only 12 percent of autistic teen drivers had gotten a ticket or been involved in a crash, according to one study from 2012 published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. That number seems low when compared with the 31 percent and 22 percent of all teens that have gotten a ticket or been in a crash, respectively.

Researchers found promising results for the future of autistic drivers when it was recorded that 1 in 3 teens who have autism and no intellectual disability can earn a driver’s license That being said, it may take more time to achieve this goal, but it is definitely possible.

It’s important for adult drivers to know their limits and set their driving restrictions such as not driving at night or on busy highways, says the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Research has also shown that instruction for ASD drivers and law enforcement alike can benefit both parties for smoother future interactions.

If possible, seek specialized instruction

While it’s true that most public schools offer an accessible drivers’ education course, there’s much to be gained by taking some form of specialized instruction. Whether this comes in the form of a private driver school or perhaps a driver’s education program for those with ASD, take a look at the options available to you.

"ASD can affect decision-making, information processing and attention to varying degrees. We need to understand what resources, specialized instruction and other supports might be helpful for teens and adults with ASD who are considering or preparing to drive," says Benjamin Yerys, a scientist at the Center for Autism Research.

If you’re wondering how to go about finding these resources, start by looking at your local driver’s license division’s webpage. There, you be able to see if there are any resources for those with special considerations; these resources should be offered for both the written and practical exam. Also, seek out your local autism organization chapters.

Don’t underestimate parental instruction

Most teens tend to learn how to drive from a parent or older role model. If you are teaching anyone how to drive, with or without ASD, make sure that you are willing to be patient and consistent. Anyone learning to drive will appreciate you helping them feel calm and confident and not afraid, frustrated or overwhelmed. As you teach someone to drive, do everything you can to help them develop a firm knowledge of driving basics.

Find a suitable teaching/learning environment

When it comes to learning the practical logistics of driving, it’s best to find an environment free of distraction. This will help the driver maintain his or her focus on learning, executing and bettering the new skills.

Driving a vehicle consists of frequent multitasking, so it’s important to have as much focus as possible. Whether you learn in an empty field, a large and vacant parking lot or some other similar place, make sure that you feel safe and free to make mistakes. This will help you or your loved ones develop the confidence and knowledge they need to eventually drive out on a busy street. But remember, one step at a time.

Overall, it is up to the individuals who are seeking a license and their support system to ask the appropriate questions regarding readiness to drive. With specific instruction, self-set limits and going at an appropriate pace, obtaining a driver’s license is well within reach for individuals with ASD.

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