Autism creates a variety of challenges for teens and young adults and raises the question: can autistic people drive? While many on the ASD spectrum are high-functioning and can do almost anything a non-disabled teen could do, there are challenges for others. Because each person has unique features to their ASD diagnosis, whether they can drive is very dependent on the individual.
Yet, studies show that many teens and young adults with autism are driving. Two of every three young adults or adolescents who have a high functioning form of autism are already driving or want to learn to drive. Autism and driving can be a challenge, but with the right driving training, it can be overcome.
Answering the question of whether autistic people can drive is simple and complex at the same time. Many who have an autism diagnosis can and do successfully drive. Read on to learn about the considerations to take when deciding if your autistic loved one is prepared to be a driver.
Autism Friendly Driving School
Autism impacts each person with a diagnosis differently. Those with an ASD diagnosis might struggle with:
- Social interaction
- Motor skills
- Regulating emotions
Those with autism can also struggle with executive functioning. This has to do with how a person processes and prioritizes information.
Some of these abilities are obviously important for being a safe driver. The studies are mixed. While some teens with ASD are slower to detect hazards, others are actually safer drivers than teens without a disability.
ASD and Driving: Yes and No
So, can autistic people drive? The answer is yes and no. It depends on the individual, their symptoms, and their individual abilities.
If you think your teen could drive, start planning early. Talk about driving and the expectations for people who drive. You might even want to have them see their doctor to guarantee there would be no other medical condition that would prevent them from being a good driver.
Autistic Kids Most Likely to Drive
Assuming all other factors are equal, there are some indicators of which kids and young adults with autism will do well driving and which ones will not.
The ASD diagnosis plus these factors indicate they are more likely to drive well:
- Full-time student
- College student or plan to attend college
- Work experience
- Driving goals as part of IEP
A parent with experience teaching another teen will more likely be better prepared to also teach their autistic child to drive too.
If you are trying to decide if your teen or young adult with autism is ready to be a driver, consider these skills needed for driving:
- Appropriate motor skills to control steering wheel, brakes, gas pedal, and turn signals
- Coordination to use both hands and feet simultaneously
- Focus to keep attention on the road for sustained periods of time
- Cognitive flexibility to adjust plans and reactions while driving
- Planning (executive function) to navigate the decision making needed while driving
- Sequencing to do the necessary steps of driving safely in the correct order
- Recognizing and following the rules of the road and acceptance of consequences for breaking those rules
- Ability to filter out the many distractions of the road
You want to evaluate your potential driver to see if they have the emotional control to stay calm while facing a variety of stimuli while driving.
Deciding if a Teen is Ready
Teens and young adults become ready for the responsibility of driving at different times, whether they are on the ASD spectrum or not. You might have one child who was ready and eager to start driver’s training at the earliest possible age and another who is reluctant and not prepared until they are 17 or 18 years old.
Every child is different, with autism or not.
Here are some questions to consider when thinking about your teen and their readiness:
- Does your teen take instruction and constructive criticism well? Both will be necessary while learning to drive.
- Are they observant while in the car and learning the basic rules of the road?
- Are they comfortable taking the needed training with another adult?
- Does your teen use good judgment and show appropriate maturity?
Finally, you want to evaluate if there is anything medically that would impair their ability to be a good driver. Do they need glasses or medication to help support their ability to drive?
For many people with autism being prepared for different situations is key to success in new situations. Driving is no different. For a teen without a disability, they might be able to take driver’s training, do some practice driving and be ready to go. Kids with autism may need more preparation to be ready for this kind of experience.
Consider these important tips to prepare your autistic teen to prepare to drive:
- Start with the basics so they know the parts of the car. Let them just sit in the driver’s seat and be comfortable with how that feels and looks. Teach them to adjust the seat and mirrors.
- Break down skills into very small and individual chunks of learning. Don’t move onto the next step until your teen feels comfortable and ready.
- Encourage them to use a driving simulation game or a video game so they get used to the sensation and stimuli that comes with driving.
Remember, for all teens, practice and repetition are key to success.
Autism and Learning to Drive
As the parent to an autistic child, you know sometimes it takes a village to help them grow and learn in their own unique way. The same can be true for their driving instructor.
Find a driving school prepared to work with someone with a disability and unique needs. Like teachers, not all driving instructors are created equal. At Colonial Driving School, each teacher is trained in teaching special needs students.
Talk to the instructor about how your teen learns best. Explain their learning style and unique needs. They might need to hear directions sooner than another driver so they have time to process information, for example. One-on-one driving lessons can offer the perfect environment for this instruction.
Can Autistic People Drive Like Their Peers?
Can autistic people drive? Yes, they can! It might require a little more care, planning, and preparation, but every teen and young adult is different, whether they have an ASD diagnosis or not.
Find a school that is ready to handle your teen’s unique needs to learn to drive. Contact us today about our specialized programs to meet your ASD needs.