Autistic Teenagers learning to Drive can be a Reality – Part 1

Learning to drive is one of those milestones in any young adult’s life. It’s a gateway to independence and freedom, which most of us take for granted. It’s a dream for most 15-17 year olds to aspire to, and having a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) should not dampen that aspiration.

Can a high functioning Asperger’s or Autistic individual learn to drive? The answer to that question from the experts is most definitely, yes.

A recent survey of parents with children aged 15-17 diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) published by the Journal of Development and Behavioural Pediatrics shows that 63% of the young people were driving or planned to drive as soon as they were old enough. A significant number of those teens who had passed their driving test were taught by their parents. And what more is that their accident rates in the first year after gaining their licences were significantly lower than their peers.

Patty Huang, lead development paediatrician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and lead author of the study said: “Over the past decade, the rate of children diagnosed with ASDs has increased, meaning that more of those kids are now approaching driving age. Car crashes are the number one cause of death for teenagers, so it is important that we understand how ASDs impact driving and how to develop appropriate educational and evaluation tools.”

An earlier study led by Daniel J. Cox of the University of Virginia found levels of concerns among parents high. They stated they were worried about their teenager’s concentration, understanding of non-verbal communication and tolerance.

“Driving is a Social act.”

According to Dr Jaime Dow, the medical advisor for safety issues for Quebec’s auto-insurance agency. “It involves obeying rules and cooperating with other drivers.”

According to The National Autistic Society of Great Britain, the diagnosis of ASD should not be a barrier, some individuals will find the skill difficult to grasp due to introduction of new language, and direction, but a significant percentage will make highly competent drivers.

All medical conditions are expected to be declared when a provision driving licence is applied for. Not doing so can lead to a fine, or having the licence rejected. There are certain areas of medical history that they will need to know about, for example individuals with a history of epileptic fits, blackouts, hearing problems and vision disorders, may be asked to go for a medical, or a road suitability test.

Kathleen Ryan, an instructor at Driving MBA, Scottsdale Arizona said: “Keeping an open mind is important. If you don’t go in thinking about their limits but think about their opportunity, they will never cease to surprise you.”

Instructors of individuals with ASDs can slow down the pace of teaching providing time for role play situations which might fluster an ASD individual. Getting a ticket, or being pulled over by the police for example.

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Shân Ellis About Shân Ellis

Shân Ellis, is a qualified journalist with five years experience of writing features, blogging and working on a regional newspaper. Prior to working as a journalist, she was a ghost writer for top publishers and was closely involved in the editing and development of book series. Shân has a degree in the sciences, and 5 A levels. She lives in the UK and is the mother of an autistic child.