Driving With Autism

A local teen with an autism spectrum disorder gets ready for his big road test.

I have finished my tests and graduated. I am done with high school. So what’s next? I am going to be doing college classes during the summer, but I have a bigger goal in mind. I am going to get my driver’s license.

I have had a permit for about three years. The first time I went driving, I was soaked with sweat, my heart was pounding and we were driving in the middle of the country with barely any other cars around. Now, I am fairly comfortable, but I need to just suck it up and do the test. The excuse of my parents not wanting to pay the insurance is pretty much dead. I’m going to need to be able to drive myself around. I have the technical skills down, except my parking needs work.

My dad did some research and found that there was a ton of information on the Internet about people with autism, , driving. The University of Virginia is doing a study on evaluating and developing the driving skills of high functioning autistic teens. Half of the group will get special driving simulator training, the other half will receive the standard training other teens go through—parent and instructor guidance. Then they will be evaluated by independent driving evaluators who will be unaware of the study. The results will be published sometime in 2012.

I read through some sites and found common problems. The big ones among autistic people are a “sensory overload” and “spacing out.” My problems are tolerance of passenger’s actions (annoyance), not focusing on the right part of the road (I need to look farther ahead) and parking.

Still, I think if I were to practice the parking a little, I could pass the test. I’m honestly worried about other drivers. I do fit the autistic driver characteristics. I am cautious, and don’t like being close to other cars.  I don’t consider myself a good driver, but I have seen much, much worse. I’m hoping I will be okay once I do get my license. This will be another step on the path to my own, new world.

Rachel Powell June 01, 2011 at 12:21 AM
Congratulations on your graduation! I think you will do just fine driving. You're right - it's the other drivers you need to watch for. I like that you already seem to understand your weaknesses and will work on those. But yes, driving with other people on the road who are on their cellphone, turning their heads to talk to the person next to them (or behind them), etc, are very real threats. So you drive as defensively as possible. My rule of the road is that you always assume everyone else out there is an idiot. Never assume someone is going to stop at that stop sign. Never assume someone is going to give you the right-of-way when legally it's yours. Always assume the person in front of you could slam on their brakes for no good reason (or a very good reason) at any instant. And then there's the part of you that just has to let go of the outcome and let what happens, happen. We all take risks every day. Driving is a huge responsibility and I'm proud of you for being a teen who understands that. But it is only one part of our daily risks, including choosing to ride your bike to the store or even just walk down your street. You'll do great, Alex!


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