Nearly every teen dreams of the day that he can slip into the driver’s seat of a car, grab the wheel and feel the power and freedom of driving himself to his desired destination. Ultimately, despite some level of fear of placing their children in control of a vehicle, most parents look forward to that day as well. After all, driving and the independence that comes with it is almost a rite of passage, and it allows parents to retire from the role of taxi driver. As a parent of a child with autism, thoughts of your teenager driving will undoubtedly fill your heart with a host of other emotions. There may be uncertainty as to whether your child can or should learn to drive, shame and pity if he cannot and a plethora of other thoughts and feelings.
The fact is that many high-achieving people who have been diagnosed with autism can not only successfully learn to drive but also become some of the safest, most attentive drivers around. In fact, in a study of twenty young men, ten diagnosed with autism and ten who were not considered to have autism, both groups scored the same for safety in a simulated driving experience. Check out these pointers to see how and if you can get your child on the path to becoming an independent driver.
Your child will likely experience the same peer pressure most teens do as friends, cousins and other peers start gaining their licenses. Driver’s permits and licenses are proudly passed around, and your teenager will get the hankering to follow suit. But can he, really? The answer to this question may be difficult to determine, but you, as a parent, and your child’s pediatrician or therapist are the ones who know him best. Seek counsel from medical and educational professionals who know your child best as you begin to explore the possibilities of your child’s future.
Amend the IEP (Individual Educational Plan)
If you want to explore the possibility of your child driving, talk to those in charge of developing his IEP – the sooner the better. Don’t wait until she is sixteen. Discuss the skills necessary for driving, and seek ways to develop those skills when she is eleven, twelve, thirteen, etc. This will begin to prepare her long before she starts asking for the keys.
Identify Needed Skills
Driving is a complicated activity. It requires the use of cognitive and motor skills as well as sharp social skills to observe and interpret the actions of other drivers, while also communicating personal intentions to those drivers. Some basic skills needed include
- social interaction
- cognitive thinking
- ability to adapt to the environment
- ability to predict
- problem solving
- an understanding of taking turns
Your child’s educators should have evaluations of your child’s abilities in these areas.
Use Games to Develop Skills
Video games may not ordinarily be the educational tool of choice, but in many cases, especially for autistic children, certain video games can be a great boost to their motor and cognitive skills. This is never truer than in the case of driving. Games such as Need for Speed that can be accessorized with a gas pedal, steering wheel and brakes give your young person a chance to develop much-needed skills in a fun way.
Plan, Prepare, and Practice
If your child is to become a successful driver, he will need more planning, training and practice time than many other teens do. There are some driving schools that focus on helping individuals with autism. Research what is available in your area. Practice the written driving test. Find online resources for ideas on developing the needed skills. With the proper time, counsel from professionals and education, many children with autism are finding greater independence and self-confidence by sitting behind the wheel and getting where they need to go on their own.
Chris Turberville-Tully, who works with a car dealership in England (HROwen.co.uk), understands the immense obstacles autistic teens can face that are merely everyday challenges to the “normal” teen, including driving. Follow Chris on Google+.