Aspergers and HFA Teens: Learning to Drive a Car


I have Aspergers, and I still do not understand how to drive. I attempted taking coaching once, but it was a catastrophe. I never got out of the parking area. I also have OCD, so that adds to why I do not drive. My OCD is why I've got the FEAR of driving (anxiety about harming someone, anxiety about doing something wrong, anxiety about destroying property, and so on), and my Aspergers is the reason why I do not possess the actual ABILITY to drive. I have numerous visual-spatial deficits that many people with Aspergers have, so driving is just not well-suited for me. I've normally had difficulty understanding my right from my left, so steering was a headache. I also have difficulty judging depth and speed, so when I practiced parking, I didn't know if I was where I was supposed to be. Additionally, driving demands the ability to recognize other drivers' actions and to focus on multiple sensory experiences at the same time, two more things that I fail at. I understand a lot of people with Aspergers may become excellent drivers … I'm simply not one of them. Do you have any suggestions?


Driving is quite a strange skill to master. How quickly you pick up driving often has very little to do with your intellect in other things. Some real dummies are still able to drive in as few as five lessons, whereas some really intelligent people can need as many as fifty lessons.

Many people with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) experience sheer hell learning to drive. Probably the most difficult thing for them appears to be planning in advance and thinking ahead.

Look for a sensitive instructor. Some approved driving instructors may be opinionated and impatient – which will certainly add to your stress-level.

Do not compare yourself with other people. Others may be exaggerating about how few lessons they needed and could be lying when they say they passed first time.

Slow progress is still progress.

Most people on the autism spectrum can become a driver, however their process might take longer because of their poor motor control. After they learn a couple of guidelines, they will probably follow them to the letter (a trait that helps in driving). However, they may have trouble dealing with unexpected situations on the road.

When taking formal driving sessions, you will probably find it overloading, if not overwhelming, to receive verbal instructions. You will learn best in your own time, your own pace and in your own manner, not someone else's, especially NT's.

I think it could be more suitable if the driving instructor is informed about your disorder beforehand and learns how to communicate with you (tell him what communication method works best for you). The instructor should be more patient with you than with NT's when you are reversing, signaling, or performing maneuvers to pass on the highway, for example.

Aspergers and HFA doesn't limit a person's ability to drive in every case. The ability to drive safely must be judged on an individual basis. People on the spectrum should follow some basic guidelines though:

1. Assemble a group of professionals such as the parents, a school psychologist, a driver’s education instructor and others to discuss whether or not you capable of driving a car. Assess your visual/motor tasks, how easily you get distracted, and overall motor skills.

2. Apply for a driving license at the normal legal age, but be sure to put down Aspergers on the application at the DMV. It's against the law not to declare this on the application, but it won't disqualify you for getting a license.

3. Take driving lessons with a driver’s education instructor, but double the amount of physical driving practice to really get used to reacting to normal driving situations. Also, bring information that can help the instructor adapt strategies to help understand you better. Take frequent breaks during this time, ask that the information be broken down into small sections, and ask the instructor to use physical cues to help with estimating speed and distance.

4. Continue to practice with someone familiar to make it more comfortable . Simulate situations in an empty parking lot that require avoidance steering, emergency breaking and distractions like loud music, water on the windshield and pedestrians until you are comfortable.

5. Drive along familiar routes as often as possible. New routes and not knowing where you are going can be distracting and upsetting.

6. Remain calm when other drivers break the rules of the road and be ready for when they do. People with Aspergers tend to follow the rules of the road and the signs concretely – sometimes to a fault. Anticipate the actions of other cars by observing their behavior – again, the most important thing is to pay attention to other cars.

Tips for Parents of Aspergers and HFA Teens—

Follow some of the "keys" to getting your adolescent on the right track:

1. After about 10 lessons on rarely visited roads, you're ready to let your adolescent enter Stage 1. Let your adolescent drive you from your home to a location very near by like the corner service station or even the nearby school, taking the side streets and back roads.

2. After about 5 to 10 lessons in an empty parking area, begin Stage 2 -- taking your adolescent to a new subdivision when there is not a lot of construction work going on. Often times you can find many nearly empty subdivisions. In this setting your adolescent learns to drive near houses, on regular streets with just an occasional car passing by.

3. After your adolescent has his or her learner's permit, start Stage 3 of your hands-on driver's education program. Take your adolescent to a vacant parking area. We used the library parking lot after hours but an empty shopping mall on a Weekend morning might also work. Practice parallel parking during this stage to liven things up!

4. Either make a scheduled appointment on-line or show up at the Department of Motor Vehicles to take the learner's permit written test. In some states your adolescent will have two opportunities to take the written test in one day if they fail the first time. Schedule your appointment for early enough in the day.

5. Motivate your adolescent to maintain a's and b's on his report card because that means a reduced auto insurance rate. Also, motivate your adolescent to maintain a learner's permit for a full two years before getting the regular license. The car insurance folks view this as "experience" driving and will give the adolescent a lower rate oftentimes based on how many years of driving experience.

6. In certain states your adolescent needs to complete a Drug and Alcohol test. The drug and alcohol four hour test may be taken on-line and must be completed to get a driver's permit.

7. Stage 4 is about allowing your adolescent drive on the highway. Select a segment of the highway that is not as high in traffic (don't do this during rush hour). Only have your adolescent drive from one exit to the next, and know ahead of time where you want him or her to turn off.

8. Stage 5 involves allowing your adolescent drive to a fun location. It is important for your adolescent to learn how to not only drive, but to know more about how you get to the places he likes to go. Let him practice taking you to the supermarket, a popular restaurant, school or other popular spot.

9. The final Stage 6 is allowing your adolescent to help you drive on a road trip. Explain exactly how to utilize a road map, how to plan a long trip. Check the laws of different states before venturing out on your road trip. Not all states allow an adolescent to drive using a learner's permit when crossing into their state.

10. Your adolescent should preferably take a driver's education class. It does not have to be in a school setting. Many states now offer on-line driver's education classes.

More resources for parents of children and teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism:

==> Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums in Asperger's and HFA Children

==> Discipline for Defiant Asperger's and HFA Teens

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and HFA: How to Promote Self-Reliance


•    Anonymous said… I have Aspergers and learned to drive in my late teens, had a break while at university and went back to it in my final year. I had an awful instructor, but the big difference was practicing. My Dad made me drive the car to my university flat in the city from our town every Sunday evening. Long drive, about 20k, light traffic, interesting, complicated route, it got my confidence back after the bad instructor and made driving a lot more natural. Then after passing I was doing doctoral research and living at a lab very far from home so driving up there and back at the weekends and relying on myself to get to shops for groceries really helped stop me avoiding it.
•    Anonymous said… im a driving instructer with an aspie boy. ive tqught several aspie kids. persever..... it will just take alot more practice but can DEFINATLY be done.
•    Anonymous said… My son is old enough to learn now, but he isn't keen. I cant tell if the reason is teenage boy laziness or Aspergers. It would really help the family out if he did learn, but after reading your post I might stop trying to push him.
•    Anonymous said… Practice on a easy Video game eg. Buggys, motor bikes on open dirt areas. This will give you plenty of safe fun while learning about driving. My asp son is excellent now after a year of XBox.
•    Anonymous said… Practice... as much as possible...in safe areas.
•    Anonymous said… So my main bits of advice are, practice, and make sure you get an instructor who you can actually work with...
•    Anonymous said… There is allegedly an IPad driving simulator for Aspergers as well as at least one professional coach and driving simulator at Cherry Hill Y.A.L.E. in New Jersey. They gave a seminar about it in February. Give yourself more time.
• Anonymous said... Great advise! My son who is 17 and alrady has his permit is practicing how to drive. Yesterday he bumped into another parked car as he was pulling out. He doesn't measure distance of spaces well. Will take some of this into account and will also advise his instructor who will begin lesssons this weekend. Hope he can make it! :)
• Anonymous said... I'm a pretty good driver, I have excellent reflexes but horrible road rage and horrible judgement of distance (I can't tell how much time I have to turn before a car is upon me). I say just take his time, if he can't judge distance like me, then it's always best to wait. He'll be fine. I'm still wondering on the road rage.
• Anonymous said... my aspergers husband is an excellant driver and as hios passion in life is buse and coaches,he is now a full time coach driver,he has never had an accident in 40 years of driving and never gets road rage/meltdown while at work or driving his coach,however if any one comes near OUR car,he does have real road rage?only seen it 3 times in 40 years but very scarey,our 2 daughters both aspergers,both drive
• Anonymous said... Thanks so very much for a very 'timely' and important articles, as my 17 year old nephew with Aspergers, is now looking forward to getting his drivers license since he will be attending college next year.
• Anonymous said... When it comes to a cheap driving school, the usual questions should apply. Things such as availability of the instructors are relevant information you should seek. Attending night driving classes in addition to those in the day can prove helpful, so be sure to ask if they are offered. Additionally, it pays to find out what the school's policy is when it comes to teaching in adverse weather; some schools will cancel and some will carry on. This is important as you don't just drive when the weather is fine!  
* Anonymous said... There are affordable options, but it's your responsibility to determine if the cheap fees charged by a driving instructor don't also indicate low quality instruction. You should never mistake temporary savings for future gain as that cheap driving lesson may cost you more time and money than you anticipated if you have to repeat the exam.

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