Learning to Drive as an Adult With Cerebral Palsy

I’m learning how to drive. I, a 28-year-old woman with cerebral palsy, am finally learning how to drive.

Let me walk you through my experience with driving thus far:

I first got my beginner’s license when I was 19. I really just got it as a piece of I.D. to get into a bar, but that’s besides the point. I went for a few lessons with my parents (God help them!) to attempt to drive with my feet, and only vividly remember the last lesson I had with my dad. I specifically remember this lesson because it was the last time I got in the driver’s seat of a car for almost 10 years.

I was determined that I could drive with my feet. I somehow convinced my dad to let me drive home from a block away, after only having driven a couple times in an empty parking lot. Now, not only do my feet leave much to be desired, I also have terrible depth perception. So, I spent a lot of my time probably five feet away from the curb as my dad yelled at me to get closer/go faster/stop being a lead foot, and cars passed me, drivers giving me the finger along the way. This particular driving lesson ended with a bird flying into the side of the car, bouncing and landing dead in my neighbor’s driveway.

Recently, I finally decided it was time to actually learn how to drive. I started out trying to drive with my problem children (my feet) again, with my husband white-knuckling the “oh s***” bar and trying really hard not to scream in terror.

We then decided it might be best for me to have a driving assessment done to see if I needed hand controls. So, I went. It started off with a cognitive assessment, which I’m pretty sure was invented specifically to make me feel like a fool and drain my brain of any logical… anything. They said I did well, but they were concerned about my depth perception.

They then wanted me to demonstrate my ability to lift my toes up and down off the ground without lifting my heel. Well, that was a big ol’ nope! So we didn’t even entertain the idea of driving with my feet, and got me hooked up with some hand controls. The car I am learning in has a spinner knob to turn the wheel, and a lever to push for brake and pull for gas.

Through my lessons I’ve learned that despite what your brain tells you, you’re not supposed to look at the “thing” in front of you that you want to avoid hitting. You’re also not supposed to just skip lanes because you want to avoid a median when turning onto a street.

But, in all seriousness, living with CP has shown me time and time again that there are different ways for everyone to do things, and just because you can’t do something the “conventional” way, doesn’t mean you can’t do it at all. A lot of learning and a little bit of perseverance can go a long way.

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Thinkstock image by Marjan Apostolovic.

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