Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Aspergers Teens and Driving a Car

When teens get their driver’s license – parents get worried! And this worry is justified!! Here are the alarming national teen driving statistics:
  • 16- and 17-year-old driver death rates increase with each additional passenger.
  • 16-year-olds are 3 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than the average of all drivers.
  • 16-year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age.
  • About 2 out of every 3 teenagers killed in motor vehicle crashes are males.
  • About 2,014 occupants of passenger vehicles ages 16-20 who are killed in crashes are not buckled up.
  • About 2,500 drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 die in motor vehicle crashes every year.
  • About 31% of drivers ages 15-20 who are killed in motor vehicle crashes are drinking some amount of alcohol and 25% are alcohol-impaired (i.e., have a blood alcohol content of 0.08 grams per deciliter or higher).
  • About 37% of male drivers ages 15-20 who are involved in fatal crashes are speeding at the time.
  • About 63% of teenage passenger deaths occur in vehicles driven by another teenager.
  • About 81% of teenage motor vehicle crash deaths are passenger vehicle occupants.
  • Among deaths of passengers of all ages, 19% occur when a teenager is driving.
  • Crashes involving 15- to 17-year-olds cost more than $34 billion nationwide in medical treatment, property damage and other costs.
  • Drivers age 15-20 account for 12% of all drivers involved in fatal crashes and 14% of all drivers involved in police-reported crashes.
  • Hand-held cell phone use while driving is highest among 16- to 24-year-olds.
  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 15- to 20-year-olds.

Now, throw Aspergers (high-functioning autism) into the mix – and parents really do have something to worry about. For a teenager on the autism spectrum, it often takes quite a bit longer to learn all the implications of driving. What may be a problem for the young driver is the ability to judge what other road users, pedestrians, animals, etc. might do and how this should affect his driving. Understanding that not all drivers and other road users obey all of the rules all of the time is a real challenge for "Aspie" drivers.

Neurotypical teens effortlessly talk on their cell phones when driving. They smoke cigarettes, eat a sandwich, sing to the radio, and nonchalantly discuss all sorts of topics with their passenger-friends. While they are doing all this multi-tasking, they also have to watch out for other cars in front of and behind them, shift gears, reverse, use the windshield wipers, brake, and so on.

However, for Aspergers teens to perform all the above tasks simultaneously is very difficult due their input system. When performing a task which requires concentration, most Aspies prefer total silence (or at least very little noise). They may not mind listening to a bit of music, but usually don't like someone talking to them because they have to (a) listen to what the other person is saying, (b) think of an answer, and (c) reply.

So how can parents ensure that their Aspergers teenager will not end up killing himself while on the road? Below are some critical tips to consider.

Driving Tips Specifically Related to the Aspergers Condition—

1. Long before driving comes into the picture, be sure to help your child learn how to ride a bike. Learning to ride a bike as a youngster is a very good foundation for anyone with Aspergers. Bike-riding skills will help the child become more aware of the possible actions of other drivers and pedestrians. Also having an instructor who is aware of the anxieties and other issues that Aspergers teens will have goes a long way toward positive lessons where what is taught and being learned is remembered and recalled.

2. Have your teen take driving lessons with a driver education instructor, but double the amount of physical driving practice to help him really get used to reacting to normal driving situations.

3. Ask the instructor to allow your teen to take frequent breaks during driving instruction sessions.

4. Ask the instructor to use physical cues to help with estimating speed and distance. Also ask that the driving instructions be broken down into small sections.

5. Bring information that can help the driving instructor adapt strategies to help your Aspergers teen understand better.

6. Don't let your teen use computer simulation when practicing to drive. The Aspergers teen may not generalize the information well enough from computer to real life situations, plus it could confuse him.

7. Have a driving instructor assess your Aspergers teen’s visual/motor skills. You want to know how easily he gets distracted.

8. Have you teen drive along familiar routes as often as possible. New routes and not knowing where they are going can easily distract and upset Aspergers teens.

9. Have your teen continue to practice his driving skills even after he has already passed his driving test.

10. Help your teen 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 your teen for getting a license.

11. 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 the teen driver is comfortable.

12. Teach your teen to remain calm when other drivers break the rules of the road. Aspergers teens follow the rules of the road and the signs concretely, sometimes to a fault. Help your teen anticipate the actions of other cars by observing their behavior.

With the above information in mind, parents should be able to have some peace-of-mind knowing that their young Aspergers driver will make it home safely with nothing more than an occasional fender-bender.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers & High-Functioning Autistic Teens


Anonymous said...

My son has mild Aspergers but like the original post, is just to afraid to drive. I ended up moving with him to another state and made sure he got all his college studies finished. He has a brilliant mind for animals and I found Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs has a great 2 year Zoo Keeper program. He has finished the coursework and still has 3 internships to earn his degree. He tried one internship but didn't feel he fit in and had some pretty bad supervisors. He has since worked a few months at Target and has a stronger work ethic so I think he will be more successful in his next internships. Unfortunatly since we live in Wyoming and it has no Zoo's, we will probabloy have to move again to complete the degree and find him perminate work.

Ness said...

Yeah, this would be useful if my instructor knew I was an aspie...

StephenH said...

I am a person with autism who has been driving for 15 years. In fact, I drive a car with a manual transmission. Driving was not difficult for me. I have not had a speeding ticket. What helped me was two things:

1) Previous Knowledge of Physics (yes many of the drivers book rules are based on Physics)

2) Learning the rules of the road

3) Knowing the area at first. This was helpful. Although now I have enough experience to drive almost anywhere (About 4 months ago I did a 11 state road trip, driving from California to Illinois and back!).

4) Getting a good instructor. Unfortunately the person the disability system sent was not the right match for me, so I used someone else I found.

DeLana Parker said...

My daughter is 18 and has Aspergers. Hers is particularly with anti-social behavior and thoughts. My entire family is ridiculing me for not forcing her to get her drivers license, but she is scared and doesn't want to. Should I force her to? Am I wrong?

A mother said...

Driving is not anctiviy everyone must do. In my opinion, you should not force her but explain to her the benefits of driving. They all mature at a different pace and maybe she will be more prepared later. Forcing her would only create more stress on her . Maybe she is not ready, at this time. Let her relax and allow her to want to do it as another accomplishment rather than an obligation.

A mother said...

You should not force her; maybe she needs more time to perform this activity. Let her see the benefits and want to do it as another accomplishment in her life rather than an imposed obligation.

Lisa F. said...

My 20 year old aspie son just failed his driving test yesterday. What a rocky 18 hours it's been! He blames the instructor, and feels violent toward him. He said he stands by the judgment call that caused him to fail (not making sure the way was clear before turning right at a stoplight), and that his life is completely off track now. Our DMV has a serious backlog and it will be a month or more until he can get on the schedule to try again. He doesn't see the point in trying again, and seems to have a personal vendetta out on the test-giver. :-( I know this will pass, but I'm thinking maybe he shouldn't try again, at least for a while. He's fine with the bus system, and is about to take a full term of college classes - stressful enough for now!

Concerned mom said...

Just wondering if anyone has been in this situation my 17 yo aspie was driving to school and was in a head on collision with another teenage driver my son was not at fault and thankfully no one was seriously injured besides some minor cuts and burns from the airbag and glass the insurance company has offered 400 dollars for pain and suffering my husband and I both have medical backgrounds and after his initial er visit we watched him closely and did the follow up appointments I'm not happy with the 400 dollar offer it doesn't even pay for his smashed computer or him being a nervous wreck to drive but I'm scared if I push about it and they ll try to use his aspergers against him we didn't hire a lawyer because we just wanted things to go back to normal and we not trying to get something that's not owed I'm glad he didn't loose his legs I'm just don't want him being screwed because I didn't stick up for him

Lisa F. said...

Insurance companies routinely offer a token amount. Nobody expects you to accept that amount. Has the insurance co. already assigned a compensation amount for the ER visit, computer replacement, & car replacement? If not, tally all that. If so, figure a dollar amount for your son's lost computer data, any PTSD/therapy, and lost time at school. Has he had a full physical, including tests for concussion? Do not settle right away. There could be delayed back or neck issues. You are not obligated to sign anything until you know what the true "pain and suffering" damage is. I'm answering because I was involved in a similar accident in high school, and they paid us $2,000 right away, but I suffered for years afterwards from migraines and lower back pain. My mom was warned not to settle, but she did anyway, without even countering their initial offer. Their client was at fault. They owe you reasonable compensation, regardless of your son's diagnosis. He has a licence to drive, and that's all they need to know. Best of luck to you, and do not let them belittle you.

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