Teens with Autism

Teens With Autism: Learning To Drive

A Significant Milestone

Learning to drive can be a significant milestone for individuals on the autism spectrum. Driving provides them with increased independence and mobility, allowing them to engage in various activities and participate more fully in their community. Secondly, it can enhance their social interactions by facilitating participation in social events and gatherings. Acquiring driving skills can boost their self-confidence and self-esteem, as it is a major milestone in transitioning to adulthood and gaining a sense of personal achievement. However, it’s crucial to note that individual abilities and considerations should be taken into account, and appropriate support and accommodations should be provided during the learning process. Here are some guidelines to help you determine how and when your teen with autism can learn to drive, if that’s something you would like to pursue:

Young woman with Down syndrome driving a car and smiling

Individual Readiness

Assess your teen's individual's readiness for driving by considering their cognitive abilities, emotional maturity, sensory sensitivities, and ability to handle complex tasks. It's important to remember that autism is a spectrum, and each person will have unique strengths and challenges.

Portrait of a policeman on the road

Legal Requirements

Familiarize yourself with the legal requirements for obtaining a driver's license in your country or state. Check if there are any specific regulations or accommodations available for individuals with disabilities or special needs.

Encouraging therapist talks with young woman

Professional Evaluation

Consider seeking a professional evaluation by an occupational therapist or a driving instructor experienced in working with individuals on the autism spectrum. They can assess your teen's readiness for driving, identify potential challenges, and provide recommendations for tailored instruction and support.

Student driver sign on top of car at stoplight

Preparatory Steps

Before starting driving lessons, it may be helpful to introduce your teen to the concept of driving by visiting a driving school or watching videos that explain the basics of driving. This can help them become familiar with the vehicle’s controls, traffic rules, and road signs.

Handsome driving instructor taking notes while exam

Structured Lessons

Look for a driving instructor who has experience or training in teaching individuals with autism. Structured and patient instruction, breaking down complex tasks into smaller steps, can be particularly beneficial. Visual aids, social stories, and other visual supports may also assist with comprehension.

Handsome driving instructor taking notes while exam
Woman in car, instructor with checklist on road

Gradual Exposure

Start with low-stress environments and gradually increase the complexity of driving situations. Begin with empty parking lots or quiet residential areas, then progress to busier streets, highways, and more challenging scenarios. This gradual exposure can help your teen build confidence and skills over time.

Man in sunglasses driving a car

Sensory Considerations

Consider how sensory sensitivities may affect your teen’s driving experience. They may benefit from adjustments such as using noise-canceling headphones or sunglasses to reduce sensory overload, or modifying the vehicle’s interior to minimize distractions.

Man in sunglasses driving a car
Learner driver and instructor shaking hands at car

Supportive Environment

Provide a supportive learning environment by ensuring clear communication, using consistent routines, and offering positive reinforcement. Encourage open dialogue between the learner, driving instructor, and any other support personnel involved.

Additional Resources

Explore resources and organizations that offer guidance and support for individuals with autism learning to drive. They may provide useful tips, strategies, and advice based on others’ experiences.

Guide Disclaimer

The information provided in this guide is intended for general educational purposes only and should not be considered as professional advice or a substitute for personalized instruction from a qualified driving instructor or therapist. Teaching individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to drive requires specialized knowledge and expertise.

It is essential to recognize that each individual with autism is unique, and their abilities, challenges, and readiness to learn how to drive may vary. This guide offers general suggestions and strategies that may be helpful in supporting teenagers with autism in the driving process, but it does not guarantee successful outcomes or ensure complete safety on the road.