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Learning to Drive as Someone on the Autism Spectrum

Driving is a milestone most look forward to with unimaginable glee. Independence is only a key-turn and a license away. I have to admit, I was one of those people. When I turned 15, I bought the Driver’s Manual for my state and studied it inside and out. I remember walking into my local DMV with confidence, breezing through the permit test and being so proud that I answered all but one question right. I remember beaming when I had my picture taken. I was going to have so much fun learning how to drive. Or at least that’s what I thought.

At first everything was going smoothly. I drove around the neighborhood countless times. Eventually, my mom believed I could handle driving through traffic. At this point in my life, I was not aware I was autistic. This is where the problem started.

I struggled with many issues at the beginning. For example, I would always feel like I was going too fast — and too fast for me was 15 miles per hour. I felt like if I went any faster, I would be drag racing. I just chalked it up to nerves and worked my way through it. Eventually this was not a problem anymore.

However, I really struggled with depth perception. It was extremely difficult for me to calculate when I could turn into traffic. I had to have my mom tell me when to turn. Most of the time I would believe a car was going too fast and I would wait for it to pass, only to realize that I was able to turn. But by then I couldn’t, because I had waited too long. This was a frustrating and ongoing problem for me.

I thought this issue would be easily resolved. That with my driving all the time, I would eventually learn how to judge when I could turn without any issues. I was wrong. While I had gotten a little bit better at it, I still struggled. I remember sitting at stoplights not knowing when to turn and getting honked at because I was taking too long.

About a year after I started driving, my mom wanted me to drive on the interstate. So I got on the merging ramp and did not make it anywhere past that. Cars breezed past me and I could not judge when I could merge. I got so overwhelmed that I broke down and cried. My mom eventually had to take the wheel and drive us to our destination.

It’s been a long time since I started driving, and while this problem is not as bad, I still struggle with it sometimes. I hope to eventually not have this problem at all. I’ve learned to be patient with myself and not get upset when it happens. I have been proud of myself for the progress I’ve made thus far. I will continue making progress, and I will eventually reach my goal — one step at a time.

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Getty image by Martinan.