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 (ASD). While over 70% of high school seniors have a driver’s 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. We have developed a program specifically for people with ASD to determine and develop their driving skills and hopefully gain the independence that comes with a driver's license. 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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How Can Autism Affect My Ability to Drive?

Stimuli can be difficult to take on. Loud noises like sirens or screaching brakes, the feeling of the seatbelt against your skin and even the radio can cause discomfort and make driving challenging.


Following the rules is important, and some people with ASD become offended when others don't follow the rules. Other drivers that exceed the speed limit or don't come to complete stops can lead to a rage incident for the driver with ASD. 


Physical abilities and coordination are a big part of driving. It will be important to help a person with ASD develop skills to improve reaction time and coordination. 


How can I prepare my child to drive with ASD?

You can start by talking about driving with your child. Discuss the rules of the road, the way to operate a vehicle, and the challenges they might encounter while learning. Tell stories of your experiences or mention specific scenarios and talk about the appropriate way to react. Share with them about the unofficial non-verbal communication that happens between drivers, such as flashing lights, using the horn, and gesturing.

Take them on a drive with you and have these discussions on the road so they can connect your words with your actions and the environment around them. Ask them questions about the things they see and point things out to them to try and promote a sense of awareness. Some have suggested using video games and driving simulators to help teach autistic children driving skills. While this can be helpful regarding the basic mechanics of steering, braking and accelerating if they use a steering wheel and pedals instead of a game controller, it may not be as beneficial as some hope. 

It is important to note that you should never force your child into driving. They will begin inquiring when they are interested and ready. Until then, you can mention it as an option, but never force them into the driver seat. Wait until they are asking you for this next step so that it is done on their terms.

How Will I Know If My Child Will Be Able to Drive?

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Everyone with an ASD is unique. To guide yourself in this decision, it can be helpful to ask yourself some questions about your child.

  1. How flexible can they be when they encounter changes?
  2. Are they able to adapt relatively quickly, or do sudden deviations from their expectations cause them severe distress?
  3. Do they have the motor skills needed to safely operate a vehicle’s controls?
  4. Are they able to handle distracting environments while still making quick, appropriate decisions, such as handling the noise of a radio, the visual stimuli of cars and billboards, and still reacting to a vehicle cutting them off?
  5. Do they have sensory processing issues that would result in anxiety when they encounter lots of noise or shiny moving objects?
  6. Are they able to maintain focus on a task for long periods of time, or will they get quickly distracted from driving and forget what they are doing?
  7. Can they maintain focus while being aware of their surroundings?
  8. Can they maintain enough awareness to notice potential obstacles and plan how to react to them?

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.


Our Driving Program for People with Autism

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We created a program in collaboration with our Driver Rehab Services, our New Driver Training and the Hopsital for Special Care that addresses the specific need of new drivers with ASD. The program incorporates medical evaluations, needed therapies and a custom tailored driver training program to help your young adult achieve their goals. 

  1. We begin with a Clinical Evaluation to assess driving abilities. Following the 2-hour evaluation, we will make recommendations for needed therapies or if all is good, help you progress to the Learner's Permit.
  2. If therapy is needed, we will send our report to your therapy provider of choice. We work closely with the Hospital for Special Care's program in New Britain, but can refer to any provider you choose.
  3. In order to drive, every new driver needs a learner's permit. We can help schedule and prepare the student for their permit. 
  4. With your permission, we will share your child's needs with our driver training team and will craft a training program that works for their learning style. Our trained professionals will cater the driver training to your specific needs.
  5. The final step is the driving test. Once the young adult is ready to test, we will help with the scheduling, preparation for and actual test day. 

What Therapy or Preparation Can I Do On My Own?

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  1. Have your child sit in the front passenger seats and verbalize directions to you. This will help them to learn the roads, traffic control devices and lane markings. 
  2. Practice the Permit Practice Tests. They are available for free on our website. Click Here to access the Permit Practice Tests.
  3. As your child begins to learn the skills of driving, break these apart into smaller steps. For example, instead of telling them to start the car, explain to them that they must select the right key, put it in the ignition, turn it to the right until they hear the engine turn over, and then let go of the key.
  4. Teach your child about Waze or other GPS options. 
  5. Point out drivers that do not follow the rules of the road. While we'd like to believe everyone is a great driver, we have to be realistic in what your young adult will encounter on the roads. People not following the rules can lead to a rage incident, but talking through this can help. 

What Next Street Looks For When Assessing

We work with each patient on an individual basis to determine what may be needed for them to learn to drive. We evaluate the patient’s cognitive functions and reaction speed, as well as assess vision and physical health. Our evaluations seek to assure that any person is safe to actually get behind the wheel. We will conclude the evaluation with a written report explaining the next recommended steps. This will give you either the confidence to begin driving or a road map of therapy to gain that confidence in time. 

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Want to read and learn more?

Check out the Driver Rehab blog to learn more about driving with ASD.

Read The Full Blog Article