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Driver Education For Children With Special Needs
Getting a drivers license is the first step to independence for many teenagers, which is why we pride ourselves on providing the environment and instruction that allow all our students to become safe and confident drivers. According to the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, Adolescents with autism spectrum disorder or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder may have characteristics that place them at risk for unsafe driving behavior. On the other hand, they may also have characteristics that promote safer driving behavior. Even with a disadvantage, the number of adolescents driving with special needs is growing.
We recognize that every special needs student is different. While some will fit into our standardized programs, others will need more specialized training. This is why our special needs program is customized around the student.
Can children with special needs drive? Yes, and the number of adolescents driving with special needs is growing. According to research conducted at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia , two-thirds of 15- to 18-year-olds with a higher-functioning autism spectrum disorder are currently driving or plan to drive, and 1 in 3 adolescents with autism spectrum disorder without an intellectual disability get licensed by age 21.
Driving With Special Needs
If your child is ready to begin driver ed and supervised practice, CHOP experts recommend that families:
Start With The Basics
Before any driving takes place, teens should know about the basic parts of the car , and they should know how to adjust the seat, wheel, and mirrors to their comfort level. Once the teen feels ready to drive, find a large, vacant plot land to drive in and get comfortable with accelerating, braking, and steering.
Discuss The Teens Learning Style And Driving
This is especially helpful if the teen and instructor do not know each other well already. Teens may want to think about their learning style , as well as any concerns they may have about driving , and be prepared to describe them to their instructor during the first session. If the teen does not provide this information, the instructor should ask about the teens learning style and concerns.
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Use Effective Communication Strategies
Instructors will learn what strategies work best for their students as they spend more time together. In the meantime, strategies such as breaking down information into smaller parts, using clear and literal language, writing and drawing, and using physical clues to measure speed and distance work for many people on the spectrum.
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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Interview Guide And Data Collection
A single trained interviewer conducted telephone interviews, which were audio-recorded and lasted 55 minutes on average . Audio recordings were transcribed verbatim and deidentified. To identify thematic saturation, at the completion of every three interviews, the interviewer closely reviewed the transcripts and identified emergent themes. After completing six interviews, a second member of the research team reviewed two randomly selected transcripts and identified emergent themes. Based on comparison of these independently identified sets of themes, we determined it was necessary to continue interviewing. The interviewer reviewed subsequent transcripts to identify emergent themes and presented them to the research team until it was determined, by consensus, that no new themes were emerging during interviews, and recruitment was discontinued.
How We Teach Driving Lessons To People With Learning Difficulties
This requires specific, individualized and intensive instruction to better help students successfully manage their thoughts, feelings and behaviours when interacting with other road users.
Effective teaching means providing every student with the maximum number of opportunities to learn and experience success.
Our training specifically targets those learning needs unique to each individual student. We do this by providing close assessment, clear guidance, supported training and supervision during all lessons, identifying the students strengths whilst developing their weaknesses.
Our training fundamentals emphasize safe vehicle control and defensive driving. This is a key step to progressing a students sense of confidence and control behind the wheel. It is particularly effective in reducing anxiety levels and their fear of driving.
Equally important to better manage anxiety while driving is creating a safe and comfortable learning environment where students feel supported in their learning and able to take on new learning and perform these tasks more confidently.
Some of our common teaching strategies particularly helpful for students include:
What we do in driving lessons for students with learning difficulties is:
Getting your license can be a challenging process. Overcoming your fear of driving takes the right practise and approach. Here are some suggestions to help:
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Specifics About Driving For Autistic Individuals
There are no laws that prohibit individuals with autism from learning to drive, explains the Autism Society. The most important issue for everyone is safety.
Determining when someone with autism is ready to drive depends on many factors, such as interest in driving, ability to multitask, personal judgment, and maturity level. Again, its wise to consult with your childs care team before making a decision on readiness.
Learning to drive can be challenging and stressful for anyone, but with the right supports in place, it can be a positive and rewarding experience for people with autism.
Questions For Your Asd Team About Driving
Consider discussing the following with your teens pediatrician and other members of their ASD team:
- How will I know if my autistic teen is ready to learn how to drive?
- Can you recommend any specific therapies that can help with coordination and executive functioning?
- Are there any communication issues that may interfere with driving?
- Are there any visual or auditory challenges that could impair my childs driving?
- What are the risks versus benefits of learning to drive right now? Are there any other skills, like bike riding, we should learn first?
- Is there a specific driving school or driving rehabilitation specialist you can recommend?
If youre looking for specialized training or specific therapies that may help an autistic person learn how to drive, consider the following options:
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What Is An Autism Friendly Driving School
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.
Learning To Drive Might Look Different For Someone With Autism
When learning to drive, it is imperative that everything be broken down into small tasks. Then, once comfortable, put all the pieces together. It might take longer for someone to learn to drive, but a person should be able to take as long as they need to learn.
The main goal is safety. It can be challenging for a person with autism to learn that others on the road might not follow all the rules like they do. Teaching drivers to expect the unexpected while driving is an abstract concept, yet a critical one.
Heres some tips for helping someone on the autism spectrum learn to drive:
- Allow frequent breaks during driving lessons to let each piece of information to settle in and not overwhelm the individual.
- Drive on familiar routes until fully comfortable. New routes can be overwhelming and should be avoided until the person is totally comfortable handling the vehicle and dealing with traffic in familiar surroundings. This is especially the case in bigger cities with more complex intersections and more traffic.
- Teach the driver to remain calm when others break the rules of the road.
- Explain what road rage is and how to avoid instigating another driver.
- Teach them that playing music while driving might be a distraction.
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Things To Think About
- Are you ready to accept instruction and constructive criticism?
- Do you feel able to take the responsibility for driving, bearing in mind you have to be aware of the safety of other road users?
- Are you ready to learn the rules of the road?
- Are you able to maintain attention for a reasonable length of time?
- Are you able to problem-solve and react quickly?
- Do you ride a bicycle? Are you confident riding on the roads and using road rules?
Road Blocks To Learning
Within the context of learning to drive, there are common barriers to learning including overcoming an initial fear of driving as well as coming to grips with a general lack of skills and experience on the road. However, our time spent working with students with learning difficulties highlights additional and sometimes pronounced challenges that require more effective management.
Examples of learning issues observed in lessons include:
- A genuine fear of driving
- High anxiety while driving
- Short attention and concentration spans with some students having mind blanks. These moments are typified by complete inattention to driving, for example, failing to notice a busy roundabout or red traffic light ahead and driving straight through them!
- Issues with reading, processing and responding to signs, lines and road markings in a timely manner.
- Reduced problem-solving and slower decision making skills
- Slower reaction times and the co-ordination of multiple tasks
- Difficulty remembering and following instructions to complete a task
- Can be impulsive behind the wheel and may over react to random situations like fail to give ways by other road users or become easily distracted.
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Helping My Husband Get His License
Last November, a year ago, I helped my autistic husband Abraham get his drivers license. I came up with a plan that worked beautifully! As a person with autism, I know how we tend to thrive on routine and do best when in our comfort zone. So heres what I had him do in order to build that comfort zone behind the wheel.
Repetition in Safe Circumstances to Build Confidence is the Key to Success
First, we went outside to my truck in the driveway. I got in the passengers seat, and Abraham in the drivers seat. I told him to first buckle up his seat belt, then put the key in the ignition and start it up. Once started, I told him to shut it off and just sit there a bit. I then told him to get out, go back to house and come out and do it all over, 10 times!
So he did it all, 10 times.
It took awhile, but by the 10th time, he did it so routinely as if hed been doing it for years.
Once he was totally comfortable with that, I had him back up the truck in the driveway between all the trees, then go forward to the starting point. Again, 10 times.
Then I had him go out the driveway to the subdivision across the street, drive throughout the quiet, meandering road there, then return to our driveway. Again, yes, 10 times.
I then taught him to parallel park 10 times, of course!
Driving With Autism Spectrum Disorder
For the average person, learning to drive can be both an intimidating and a liberating experience. This can be even more true for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder . While over 70% of high school seniors have a drivers license, this number drops to around 30% for those diagnosed with a form of autism. In some cases, the individual may feel overwhelmed at the sheer number of tasks and rules involved in driving and choose to postpone learning. For others, it may be their parents and guardians who are concerned about their abilities to safely drive and obey the laws, while the child sits home eager to get out on the road and experience the independence that they see their peers enjoying.
At The Next Street, we believe that every person should have the opportunity to try to learn to drive. There is no one size fits all solution for driving with ASD, so we work with each individual to develop the program that is best for them.
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Strengths Of Autistic Drivers
Despite the challenges encountered, specialized driving instructors noted several strengths among autistic students. Students were generally described as displaying an aptitude for memorizing the rules of the road and driving routes: They tend to have an detailed memory for anything that youve shown them or you said to them . Describing an experience with a student, 1 participant shared,
He drove a road one time. He had that memorized. It was like navigation was his super power. . . . He was . . . just phenomenal. He lived on the opposite side of the county and had never really been on our side of town. And we would have him driving around, and he could remember exactly the road, the nameseverything from that point on. And it was helpful for training because then it was like we do it one time and he would need a lot cues on what to expect. I would kind of prep him whats coming up. And then the next time, he wouldnt need that prep, and he could focus on other skills and stuff.
Strict rule following, noted as a challenge, was also a strength for autistic students: Theyre gonna make those stops at those four-way stops every time. . . . Theyre gonna slow down at yellows. Theyre gonna stop at reds . Moreover,
autistic drivers, as a rule, tend to be moreor as a group tend be morerigid rule followers. So these are people who dont speed. They dont take chances. They dont take risks. Theyre never gonna do anything overtly illegal.
Resources On Autism And Driving
Research shows that many countries, including the United States, have no autism-specific licensing requirements for learner drivers with autism. There is a general lack of support, especially in terms of drivers training, for individuals and their families. Evidence shows that individuals with autism drive differently than their neurotypical counterparts. That is why its important to take advantage of the resources available to you.
For more information, please refer to the following resources:
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How Qualified Is The Instructor
Most private and public driving instructors specialize in training neurotypical teenagers how to pass the driving test. Most driver rehabilitation programs, including those based in regional hospitals, specialize in physical and occupational retraining for experienced drivers. Modern Driver Institute is the only facility on the East Coast that specializes in cognitive and behavioral training for non-traditional novice drivers.
Surprisingly, there are no regulations governing who can train whom in Pennsylvania. Anyone training novice drivers for pay must be licensed as a driving instructor by the PA Department of Education, but the only requirement to be a driving instructor is a high school diploma. There are no guidelines at all over who may call themselves a driver rehabilitation specialist . There are also no regulations limiting which driving instructors can claim expertise in working with individuals with cognitive, learning, behavioral or developmental differences.
At Modern Driver Institute, weve inherited students from private and public driving instructors, as well as from rehabilitation hospitals and rehabilitation specialists. In almost every case, weve succeeded where they could not. This is because we choose to specialize in this one area, and this specialization brings expertise to a new level.
Education, certification, and experience. Thats the combination you should be looking for in a provider.
New Realm Of Independence
Obtaining a drivers license unlocks a whole new realm of independence for everyone, but especially for people on the autism spectrum. It is key for socialization, employment and basic health.
A lot of students with autism and adults with autism have a lot of anxiety for a lot of reasons, said Meredith Schindler, executive director of the Ann Arbor Academy, and the more you increase your confidence, the more skills you can gather so it’s part of building a sense of self-determination and confidence that you can be the captain of your own ship.
The underemployment of people with disabilities is a long-standing problem nationwide, with the unemployment rate of people with disabilities being typically twice that of the general population. According to the Autism Society, more than 66% of young adults on the autism spectrum are unemployed and not engaged in higher education two years after leaving high school.
A drivers license is the first step. Federal law allows for employees with physical or mental disabilities to be underpaid, often far below the minimum wage.
Driving is one of those things that is fairly straightforward in terms of being able to remove that as a barrier to success, Schindler said. Most places in the country, and certainly in most of Michigan, you really have to have wheels in order to really become as independent as possible.
He’s far surpassed any of those limitations I thought he would have, Cindy Bostwick said.
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