In 3 Teens With Autism Has A Driver’s License
Many teens with autism want to hit the open road on their own, and new research shows that about one-third are following through on those dreams and getting a drivers license.
We know that driving can increase mobility and independence for adolescents with ASD , but little was known about their rates of licensure, said study principal investigator Allison Curry. Shes a senior scientist at the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphias Center for Injury Research and Prevention.
Our results indicate that a substantial proportion of adolescents with ASD do get licensed, and support is needed to help families make the decision whether or not to drive before these adolescents become eligible for a learners permit, she added in a hospital news release.
For the study, researchers reviewed data on New Jersey teens. The investigators found that one in three teens with autism but no intellectual disability obtained an intermediate drivers license. Most did so when they were 17 years old.
Nearly 82 percent of teens with autism who obtained a learners permit received their intermediate license within one year. For teens without autism, the rate was 94 percent. Within 24 months of getting a permit, the rates were nearly 90 percent for kids with autism and 98 percent for those without the disorder.
But Yerys pointed out that ASD can affect decision-making, information processing and attention to varying degrees.
Create A Printed Schedule And Add It To The Fridge
Creating a drivers license timeline for your teen may ease some of the tension. The process is a lengthy one. In our state, theres a one year wait between getting a permit and the final test. Counting our practice time, this means the entire process will take three solid years.
For a teen on the spectrum, this long list of requirements feels daunting. So, break it down and give them an idea of what to expect and when.
If more details makes your teen more calm, provide them. Ask the driving instructor what type of car, what color, how many students in each driving session. If it makes life easier to ask, ask. If your teen needs to learn how to ask these questions, have them ask via an email, phone call, or smoke signal.
Sample drivers license timeline:
First and foremost, make sure your teen knows how to stay safe. There some situations only parents of teens on the spectrum will know. For me, I want my daughter prepared for the day a driver may cut her off and rattle her anxiety level. Its important to me she understand how to function well in those situations. So, we practice by pretending something like that happens.
Plus, once she gets her license to drive alone, she will be taking a defensive driving course. Do whatever it takes to make you and your teen comfortable with his/her driving.
Determining Readiness To Drive
For autistic individuals, the decision to learn to drive is often a family decision. Getting a drivers license offers a certain level of freedom to get around on ones own, and it is a rite of passage for many young adults.
The discussion about driving readiness should include your developmental pediatrician or primary care physician and any other important members of your treatment team, such as occupational therapists, behavior therapists, counselors, and school staff members who contribute to an Individualized Education Plan.
Driver rehabilitation specialists who specialize or have training on working with people with special needs can also be consulted prior to starting lessons. They can provide behind-the-wheel lessons when the student is ready.
Ultimately, determining readiness to learn to drive is a personal and family decision. It also depends on the individuals interest in learning to drive. If an autistic individual doesnt have a desire to drive, there is little reason to embark on the endeavor.
Consider these questions in order to determine driving readiness:
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How Complicated Driving Can Be When Someone Perceives The World Differently
Keeping track of everything going on around me, all the others vehicles, traffic lights, signs, pedestrians, handling the car itself, was all just too much for me to cope with. In the back of my mind was the ever-present realization that operating a vehicle on the road could possibly result in an accident, either fatal to myself or others as well.
This type of situation is one where it might be important to have someone who is a Certified Autism Specialist present to make sure that they can better understand what the person with autism is going through. Any time someone is in a car it is important to make sure that everyone is as safe as possible, and this would go a long way for safety.
Learning To Drive When You Have Autism
Many teens and young adults with autism express interest in learning to drive.
According to the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia, almost two-thirds of adolescents with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder currently drive or would like to learn how to drive. One in three adolescents with ASD who do not have an intellectual disability obtain their drivers license by the age of 21, and most do it around the age of 17 when their same-aged neurotypical peers usually do.
Autism presents with unique challenges that can impact how someone learns to drive, but it does not make it impossible. With reasonable accommodations, teens and young adults with autism can successfully learn to drive safely.
Challenges that autistic individuals without intellectual disability face that can impact driving ability include impairments in:
- Social interactions.
- Attention abilities.
- Executive functioning.
The above skills are all important for safe driving. Autism can affect ones ability to make quick decisions and process all of the information that comes with driving on the road, but it can also improve other driving skills, such as the ability to obey traffic laws.
One recent study found that men with autism may exhibit slower hazard detection times on the road. Another study, however, found that teens with high-functioning ASD were less likely to get into car accidents than teens from the general population.
How Will I Know If My Child Will Be Able To Drive
Everyone with an ASD is unique. To guide yourself in this decision, it can be helpful to ask yourself some questions about your child.
Our program for Driving With Autism includes a clinical evaluation by a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist. They will assess your child and help you determine if they are ready to drive, as well as help you develop a plan to reach their goal.
Research In The Future Adults In The Now
Many individuals with ASD, like many of their parents, are not inclined to wait for the results of research studies. Teenagers and adults visiting WrongPlanet.net — an online community for people with autism and Asperger syndrome — expressed a host of frustrations, worries, and feelings of accomplishment in recent discussions about driving.
One young man, a good driver but nevertheless nervous about having to parallel park during his upcoming driver’s test, wondered: “How did other Aspies deal with obtaining their licenses? Was it very stressful? Were you relieved afterwards? Also, is common for high functioning autistics to have licenses?” 24
Another poster, having recently earned her driver’s license, offered him this advice, “I had the same worries you about parallel parking. Most instructors will see you know what you’re doing, and won’t expect a ‘blindfold perfect’ parking job. They know that the test is very nerve wracking. Just make sure to follow the rules of the road, and you’ll be fine. Make sure it looks as if you’re aware of your surroundings .” 25
A young man likewise offered reassurance and posted an exhaustive list of the specific skills involved in driving, including more than two dozen items broken down by subject heading.26
The following day, the original poster wrote: “Today, at 3:40, I obtained my drivers license! I am so happy right now….” 27
See IAN’s section on Adults with Autism for more articles on teens and adults on the spectrum.
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Communication Impediment In Vehicle Registration
The option for disclosure of a communication disability/impediment when registering a vehicle through the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Communication Impediment will then be privately placed in the Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunication System thus alerting the officer of the challenge PRIOR to approaching the vehicle in a pull-over scenario. Form VTR-216 must be completed by a licensed physician if the applicant has a physical health condition or a licensed physician, licensed psychologist, or a non-physician mental health professional if the applicant has a mental health condition.
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.
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Scientific Research On Autism And Driving
Despite the prevalence of ASD, it wasnt until recently that we had definitive scientific research looking into the relationship between driving and autism.
A 2017 study published in the journal Autism looked at the relationship between autism and driving with a large sample of New Jersey teens. Researchers cross-referenced the medical records of over 50,000 NJ teens with state driving records, identifying 609 teens that had been diagnosed with ASD. Some key findings included:
- 34% of teens diagnosed with autism obtained a drivers license. Non-autistic teens earned drivers licenses at a rate of 83%.
- 89.7% of those autistic teens progressed from a learners permit to a intermediate drivers license within 2 years. This compares to 98% of teens without autism.
- Teens with autism took, on average, 9 months longer than non-autistic teens to progress from learners permit to intermediate license.
Interpretation: This study highlights the fact that a large percentage of teens with high-functioning autism are driving. It also tells us that, given the high success rate, most families with autistic teens are doing a good job of deciding on a teens potential to drive before obtaining a permit. Lastly, it shows that teens with autism take longer, on average, to learn the required driving skills or that parents are simply more cautious in the learning process.
Driving A Car With Autism: Understanding How It Can Be Different
For some teenagers, getting a drivers license might symbolize their freedom and new life as an adult. But not every teenager counts the days until they get their drivers license. I learned to drive in high school along with the rest of my classmates.
At that time in my life, I didnt know Im autistic. What I did know, however, was that I felt scared and instinctively knew I wasnt ready to drive.
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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.
Are There Legal Restrictions On Driving With Autism
In the United States and most other countries, there are no legal restrictions relating to autism and driving. So long as the individual can pass the required tests and demonstrate safe driving behavior, they are permitted to obtain a drivers permit and eventually a drivers license. Keep in mind that driving laws do vary from state to state, so youll want to check with your local department of motor vehicles for details.
There is a lot of existing research on the relationship between medical conditions and driving. While some conditions like visual impairments can legally bar individuals from obtaining a drivers license, most other medical conditions do not.
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Resources For Autistic Individuals Learning To Drive
If you and your family have determined that you are ready to learn to drive, there are many resources available to assist you, including many online driving resources.
Information on driving basics, how to determine if you are a safe driver, how to get your license, and more can be found at the following sites:
- TeenDriving.com: This site covers information about drivers education options, driving for the first time, the driving tests, how to gain experience, and graduated license programs. It also includes a list of questions to help you assess if you are a safe driver or not.
- DriversEd.com: This site offers online courses that teach drivers education for teens and adults, as well as in-car driving lessons, traffic school, practice permit tests, and DMV information.
- Driving Tests: Free practice tests, as well as tests to purchase, are offered at this site to help you study for and pass your DMV exams.
- Virtual Drive USA: This site offers you a way to complete your drivers education requirements online. Courses are taken online at your own pace. Additional study guides are available to help you pass the learners permit test.
When researching driving schools, it can be beneficial to find a school that specializes in working with individuals with autism or other developmental disabilities. Here is a selection of driving schools that specialize in teaching autistic students how to drive:
Keeping Autistic Drivers Safe On The Road
If you are on the autism spectrum and are preparing to learn how to drive, or if youre a parent to a would-be driver with autism, there are some things to keep in mind. Here are some tips to consider before moving forward:
Each case is different Autism is a spectrum, and the severity of the disorder varies greatly. Some autistic people can drive safely with no more training than the average person, while other autistic individuals simply should not get behind the wheel for safety reasons.
Professional advice is recommended Before an autistic teen applies for a driving permit, its wise to make an appointment with the teens family doctor to discuss concerns relevant to driving, such as attention issues. Families may also wish to work with an occupational therapist with a driving focus, or a driving instructor experienced in working with special needs individuals.
Start very slow Many autistic individuals can become overwhelmed easily, and may not respond well to stressful situations. New drivers should always start the learning process in wide open spaces without other drivers and this is especially true for autistic drivers. Find an empty parking lot to practice basic driving skills to get comfortable before moving on to public roads.
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Neurodevelopmental Differences And Driving
The Teen Driving Safety Research team at CIRP is currently conducting research on neurodevelopmental differences and driving to examine rates of licensure and risk of crashing for adolescents and young adults to help establish the epidemiologic foundation for future translational research. One-third of autistic individuals without intellectual disability obtain their driver’s license by age 21, and two-thirds of autistic adolescents of legal driving age without intellectual disability are either currently driving or plan to drive, according to research conducted at CIRP.
This unique program of research on neurodevelopmental differences and driving is led by Allison E. Curry, PhD, MPH. Her research involves linking data from two sources: 1) electronic health records for over 114,000 CHOP patients born between 1987 and 1995 in NJ, and 2) the New Jersey Safety and Health Outcomes Data Warehouse, a rich unique database that includes the full licensing, citation, and crash history of every NJ driver. The research is being conducted in collaboration with the Center for Autism Research at CHOP and the Center for Management of ADHD at CHOP.
Other States Start Offering The Option
One in three teens who have autism without intellectual disability earn a drivers license, a 2017 study found.
If pulled over, they might need extra processing time, avoid eye contact or become anxious, which could give the impression of guilt or an unwillingness to cooperate, said Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association.
From a safety perspective, it could be beneficial for police officers to know prior to approaching a vehicle that the driver may have difficulty communicating or being able to immediately comply with verbal instructions, Fournier noted.
A few states already allow people to note the disorder on their IDs or licenses.
In Texas, drivers have the option to add a communication impediment note on their drivers license or to their DMV file. The law covers people with autism, Asperger syndrome, hearing impairment, PTSD and other conditions. If theyre pulled over, officers will know about their condition before they approach the car, NBC affiliate KXAN reported.
Arkansas also allows people with autism to apply for a communication impediment designation on their drivers license, ID card or a decal on their license plates. Georgia allows autism and other medical conditions to be listed on the back of a driver’s license or ID card. Virginia and the District of Columbia provide the option to include a code on the documents indicating the holder has autism spectrum disorder.
Michigan is considering a similar option.
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