Thursday, June 24, 2010

Driving in the Age of Autism

 Can people with autism drive?

In many cases, among them Bil's, the straight and honest answer is no.  However, some "high functioning" individuals with Aspergers Syndrome, for example, can and do learn to drive.

One of these individuals is a friend of my son's, who I have written about a couple of times before.

The plan right now is for this young man, who will be going to college for a one year program, out of town, to live in a dorm but come home on weekends.

Come home on weekends.  In a car. By driving himself.

This sounds like a no brainer but for those with children on the spectrum, this driving thing is no small thing.  I am no expert on this, but my guess is that this is because  driving is a very complex skill to learn and master.  You may not think so if you, gentle reader, has been driving for years.  But think back to when you were learning. (If you have a teenaged child, remembering this is easy!)   Did it ever feel like you would ever be able to brake without trying to catapult all the occupants of the car through the windshield?  How about watching the road and the speedometer at the same time?  And judging distances?  Parking?  Not running up on the curb every time you tried to make a turn?

People with autism tend to think visually.  They have to learn skills broken down in to small parts, one at a time.  And, they won't translate skills in one context into another. For example, my brother in law Bil could learn to put a key into his lock at home. But when it came to locking the door of his brother's house, well that was a whole new set of circumstances.

But I digress....back to the friend.

His parents had gotten private lessons for him and the instructor was not sure he would ever be able to pass the driving test.  But he did. And, our next door neighbor (who has an adult son....let's just say he understands, too), even sold this young man a car.

So he's set, but his Mom is very nervous...and to be honest, I am also.  I was with my son too but this is something different.  Will his reaction times be good enough?  Will he be able to judge distance, or make other split section decisions?  His life can and will depend on it.

So far, he drives alone and my son follows in his car.  He is not permitted to have passengers for the first 6 months and this is similar to what he gave our son as a condition when he got his license. But our son got his license when still a teen. (An older teen, but a teen.)  This young man is an adult.  So we will have to see what happens.

All parents hold their breaths as their children achieve independence.

The parents of a child with autism pray for his or her independence...and hold their breaths twice as hard.

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