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Why I Don't Drive as a Person With Autism

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I always looked forward to learning to drive once I was old enough. I thought it would give me a number of exciting opportunities and an independent way of getting around. But it didn’t go the way I expected.

In some ways it did go quite well; in the first few weeks I felt like I was making good progress and was pleased. The main issues I was having in the beginning were fairly standard; I was happy going along a straight road without anyone else there, but when more cars appeared and the roads became more intricate, things were more difficult. This was to be expected though, and it is not the primary reason I am discussing this.

My key issue with driving, more than anything else in the end, was fatigue. This is quite difficult to admit; it is also another one of those things I do not take entirely seriously. I have times where I think I am incapable, and that is the reason I have not yet learned to drive. But coping with fatigue is far more difficult to improve than driving skill. As the weeks went by, I gradually got better at what I was doing, but when I got home after every lesson, I found I was near enough useless for the rest of the afternoon. In the end, this tiredness driving caused was a barrier to the progress I was making. I began to dread the driving itself; the lessons only lasted an hour, but the intensity of the hour proved to be too much to deal with.

When I realized the lessons were tiring me out, I decided to stop. I kept trying for a number of months, and I found the issue was not getting any better. At the time, I did not understand quite so well what the issue was; as I said, I thought I was simply incapable and I couldn’t manage it. I understand a lot better now, and realize how many different things happen at once when driving a car. Sometimes going out for a walk can be quite difficult for me to deal with. Whenever there are a lot of things to see and hear, it will always be an issue for me — even without having to drive a car at the same time.

To drive, I had to look in the mirrors, keep an eye on the speed, steer, make sure I was in the correct gear and be ready for any sudden changes, all while processing the scenery and sound of the road. Putting it like this makes it so much clearer how much there was going on and why it was so difficult for me at the time. It is no surprise I felt tired and needed to sit quietly away from everyone for a while. This is no different to how I feel after I go out to do anything. The only difference is the severity. There are times when I may only need half an hour to process what has happened, but sometimes I need a few hours. I found that when driving, considering it was only for an hour, I was particularly exhausted.

Then there are more practical issues. I could only really drive for an hour at a time; I knew people who did lessons for two hours at a time without an issue. I also considered that only being able to drive for an hour at a time made doing so less useful for me. Long journeys would definitely be written off. Some roads are more challenging than others in terms of the overload potential. I would have to adapt to the roads rather than expect the roads to adapt to me; I can’t make all roads flat and straight with little scenery. Also, there is the question of safety. At times I was overwhelmed with all the things happening at once. If anything had happened out of nowhere, is there any chance I would have been able to deal with it properly? I sometimes think it would not even be safe for me to drive, so it is best that I don’t for now.

Should I worry about driving anyway? It is still something I am fairly determined to do at some point in the future. It will be a case of trying again and seeing if it has the same effects as it did then. If I eventually find that driving is not completely overwhelming, I will do it. For now though, I am quite happy to wait and try again another time; I have gotten used to public transportation.

I wonder how much of an issue this is on a wider scale. Are there other people who experience the exact same issues as me? This is also why I decided to share my experience. I also thought it would be good to illustrate that even as an adult, sensory overload can still be a problem, even if it is not quite as severe as it was. In the end, this is not the most severe difficulty I have experienced, but it was on my mind for a while. I needed to get to the root of what made it difficult. Now that I understand more, I feel much better about it.

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Getty image by Voyagerix.

Originally published: December 26, 2017
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