Is Driving Possible for Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Is Driving with Autism Possible for Teens?
Many parents of teens with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) struggle over the important decision to place their child into a driver education program. It is a decision that needs to be made based on the individual needs of each family. Many teens are worried about the challenge of learning to drive, and parents are rightly concerned about the safety of their children. Many parents would be surprised to find out that according to research done by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, 1/3rd of teens with autism spectrum disorder without an intellectual disability acquire a driver’s license. While this is still significantly lower than the overall average for teens, it is still encouraging that many parents and teens are able to make safe driving decisions that promote their independence.
How Hard is Driver’s Education for Teens with Autism?
Deciding whether or not to let their teen drive can be a tough decision for parents and it should not be considered lightly. Some parents of teens with autism visit a doctor to get a second opinion on whether their teen is ready to learn to drive. Once parents and their teens make a decision on whether to pursue a driver’s license, most teens with autism spectrum disorder complete and gain their driver’s license with just 16.5% of teens failing to earn their license. While driver’s education for teens with autism can take longer, taking an average of 9.2 months longer to earn a driver’s license for teens with ASD than others, it is critical to not rush the process. Research has shown that taking the correct amount of time to fully learn the ins and outs of driving is critical to the success of driver education for teens with autism. In fact, even if a teen ends up never achieving a driver’s license, it can still be helpful for them to try learning to drive according to Amy Weitlauf, a researcher at Vanderbilt University who states, “Although there is no single accepted treatment for ASD, there is growing agreement that individualized behavioral and educational interventions [Driver Education] can have a positive impact on the lives of these individuals and their families.”
How to Help your Teen with their Transition into Driving:
One way many drivers with autism are improving their chances of success in driving is through driving simulators. These provide a safe, consequence-free environment for teens to get comfortable with the mechanics and fundamentals of driving. A lot of universities including the University of Virginia are doing research on driver’s education for teens with autism involving simulators. Getting in touch with them can be a great way to get affordable access to the extremely sophisticated simulators that are too expensive to buy. Vanderbilt University’s simulator teaches teens with ASD the basic rules of the road but also takes things further. It has advanced techniques to adapt the learning program for each student based off of their own performance within the simulator, finding the areas they struggle in and working to help them do better in those specific areas.
Another way for teens with ASD to mitigate dangerous driving mistakes is to simply take more time to learn the fundamentals of driving and behind the wheel training. Finding a driving instructor that will stay calm and take the proper amount of time to really help your teen succeed will pay dividends in the end. Instructors at some driving schools are experienced to specifically help teens with ASD drive.
Driving with ASD is possible for teens and many end up earning their driver’s license. Driver’s education for teens with autism is possible if parents and teens work together to establish an education strategy based on the teen’s readiness to drive.
- 33% of teens with ASD without an intellectual disability earn their license
- Visiting a doctor to determine readiness to drive is helpful in making the decision on whether or not a teen should drive
- Only 16.5% of teens with ASD that start earning their license will not earn it
- Learning to drive can be helpful simply as an educational and social opportunity
- Driving simulators can be extremely helpful
- Be patient and take your time with the learning process
- Find a driving instructor that is experienced in working with teens with ASD