Autism Spectrum

Launchpad

leaving school and leading your own life

Learning to drive

 

In all states and territories, legislation requires a driver to advise their driver licensing authority of any long-term or permanent injury or illness that may affect their safe driving ability.”

Austroad

Helping your teenagers or young adult decide whether they can learn to drive is one of the big issues that parents face in the transition years.

 

Teens driving

 

We can’t make any general statement regarding the capacity of individuals with autism in relation to learning to drive.

Some people with autism are capable of driving, some are not and some would be capable of driving but for various reasons choose not to.

Any decision regarding driving ability needs to be based on the individual’s abilities in specific skills related to driving.

Possible problems for those with autism when driving:

  • Motor coordination and planning difficulties
  • Attention modulation difficulties
  • Insistence on sameness or limited flexibility
  • Emotional dysregulation e.g. heightened anxiety
  • Limited ability to anticipate the actions and intentions of other drivers
  • Perceptual differences such as excessive attention to details rather than broader contextual factors

 

Driving was hard, you don’t realise what’s involved in in doing it. It looks easy but when it’s broken down into each section, it’s hard – control the wheel, brake and accelerator, have to put on blinkers, wipers, AC, looking out for cars, hazards, pedestrians.

 

That’s what I struggled with, dealing with all that at once and processing it all at the same time.

Matt B, 25

 

 

What Does The Research Tell Us:

It is limited, there are only a handful of studies:

One study of adult drivers (Daly et al, 2014) found that adult drivers with autism

  • Obtained their licences later
  • More likely to rate themselves as “poor drivers”
  • More likely to place restrictions on their driving e.g. avoiding traffic, night driving and highways.

Another study (Cox et al, 2012) that surveyed 123 parents of teen drivers with autism found that:

  • The majority of parents rated single skills such as maintaining lane position, turning, speech control,
    braking and use of turn signals as “not difficult to teach”
  • However, a majority of parents rated complex skills such as awareness of traffic (55%) and multi-tasking (65%) as
    very difficult to teach
  • This same set of parents stated that the most helpful strategies included practice and repetition, teaching skills in small steps, providing verbal or visual scripts prior to starting out on a drive and being calm and patient
  • The least helpful strategy was showing emotionality such as raising their voice, getting upset or cringing and talking too much.

 

 Tips For Parents

  • Your GP may require an individualised assessment from a driver trained assessor
  • Alternatively, you may opt to arrange for this kind of assessment yourself if you or your child are unsure about potential driving ability
  • Break down skills into small steps and teach to mastery – lots of repetition and practice
  • It may take longer to teach a person with autism to drive
  • Some people with autism may not be ready to learn to drive until they are somewhat older than their peers
  • Remain calm or utilise a professional driver trainer
  • Talk through or role play possible social situations related to driving e.g. what to do if pulled over by police, what to do in the event of an accident
  • Directly teach some of the non-verbal communication and other signals associated with driving e.g. drivers using flashing of lights to get your attention, hand signals or flashing lights to indicate that they are letting you in
  • Talk aloud as you are driving, explain what is happening on the road and what you are thinking and how you are planning ahead.

 

There is more detailed information in our Learning to drive – young  people page, just click on the Young people green tab at the top of this page.

Click on Our Stories on the right hand side of the page or click here for more personal stories about learning to drive.