Learning to Drive as Someone on the Autism Spectrum
I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum when I was 15 years old. Back then, I really didn’t know what that meant. So I focused on other (seemingly more important) things. My biggest focus was getting ready to learn how to drive!
Like most people who want to get their driver’s license, I was so excited when I finally turned 16. But when I asked my parents about it, they were very hesitant at first. Of course, I didn’t understand at the time. I just wanted to drive. My parents needed to figure out the best way to teach me, though. So it took another full year before the process began.
I started off with a typical driver’s education class, but I couldn’t handle the class itself. The workload was stressful, and there were so many other kids in the class that I just couldn’t focus on anything. My mom found a special mail-in course I could take instead. I read over a large book and had to take a test after each chapter with a licensed teacher watching. It worked. I passed the course and eventually got my learner’s permit.
Then the real work began. I will never forget that first day my dad took me out to practice. We arrived at an empty parking lot. My dad told me to get out of the car, and he brought me to the front of it. He instructed me to simply feel the hood of the car, and then to imagine it hitting something at 35, 45, or even 55 miles per hour. I truly began to understand and respect the power of the vehicle.
It was time to learn how to drive the car, and I realized it was a lot harder than I thought. As someone on the autism spectrum, I felt overwhelmed getting on the road with other cars. I started off in a business corporate center that had a road looping around, and it was probably another six months before I was ready to venture out onto an actual road. Then I would drive around outside the corporate center in a slightly larger loop, ending by going back into the corporate center where I was comfortable.
After about a year of practice, I passed my driver’s test. I’m so happy I learned how to drive. I actually found out later that my parents didn’t know if it would be possible, but they decided to let me try. I’m glad they did. Even though I’m limited on the places I can drive to, at least I have a little bit more independence.
I struggle with areas of construction and large highways. If there is a detour, I get extremely nervous. And since the GPS is distracting to me, I need to know exactly where I’m going before I leave. But I’m able to drive locally, and my loop has gotten larger over time. My autism diagnosis might have slowed me down at first, but I’m still moving forward!