Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…
Your Asperger’s Teen: 6 Secrets to Safe Driving
Part 2 of our Driving Series
In our last newsletter (Is Your Asperger’s Syndrome Teen Ready to Drive?), we discussed some of the challenges that people with Asperger’s syndrome and autism have in learning how to drive. Now we are going to discuss some of the strengths that those with Asperger’s syndrome have that allows them to be better drivers, as well as some coping strategies to give them that extra edge.
Your Teenager Will Likely Know the Rules, and Stick with Them
Being rule oriented certainly has its advantages in this situation — as long as a little mental flexibility goes along with it. Your child with Asperger’s syndrome will be the one who knows every last rule in the driving handbook and what’s more, they actually care enough to follow them.
They will be more conscientious about the rules and will probably try to follow them to a T. They are NOT going to be the ones drunk driving or using a cell phone all the time when driving. They won’t be the ones doing their nails at the red light or playing Sudoko on their iPhones while cruising along. Simply put, they have a much greater sense of responsibility.
And because of their disability, they are less likely to take driving for granted. They know it’s something they had to work for and are more likely to take it seriously.
You can’t say that for the neurotypical business executive speeding through intersections while they conduct a business meeting on their Smartphone. Or for the neurotypical teenager given to road rage, racing, or packing too many teenagers at once in the car.
Let’s face it, every group of people have their liabilities in some ways, and for those whose information processing and sensory processing abilities work well enough, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be given a chance to learn how to drive.
6 Secrets to Safe Driving for your Asperger’s Teen
Of course, like everything else, there are certain strategies you can teach to your child to make the parts of driving that may be difficult for them a little bit easier — and a lot safer.
1. Driving alone may help your teen with Asperger’s syndrome
The autistic speaker and lecturer Deb Lipsky says that she can drive just fine as long as she is driving alone. She can’t tolerate passengers in her car. They distract her and make her car a mess, she says.
She can’t handle talking and driving at the same time. This includes her husband — in one lecture, Lipsky tells of a meltdown she had when she was a passenger in her husband’s car and her husband took a different way home than usual. From then on, she said, she and her husband take separate cars, so she has as much control over the driving process as possible.
2. Limit the geographical area your teen with Asperger’s syndrome drives to just a few familiar areas
Many drivers, especially new drivers, will feel much better and less stressed out if they stick to driving in their own town and don’t venture out too far. If you travel the same route time and time again, it will begin to seem routine and far easier. This way, the person can still have a little independence — being able to get to a job, the store, doctor’s appointments or to see friends — without being dependent on their parents. Teenagers with Asperger’s syndrome also are more likely to succeed if they stick to a smaller, well known area.
3. Ensure your teen driver with Asperger’s syndrome is prepared
Make sure your teen driver has a cell phone for emergencies (but that he or she does not use it when driving). Tell them that if something is making them nervous or scared when driving, to pull over and call you. Say the weather changes, for example, and it starts storming out. They might have been taught what to do in such a situation, but they panic and forget. So they call you, and you can calmly instruct them in what to do.
The speaker Deb Lipsky also says she worries she will run out of gas too far from a gas station, since she travels long distances, so she keeps gas cans in the trunk. Do whatever it takes to help your Asperger’s syndrome teen feel prepared for the worst. A first aid kit, water, shelf stable food, a blanket and flashlight — all these can be helpful to store in the car just in case.
4. Teach your teen with Asperger’s syndrome how to use a GPS
A GPS can eliminate 90% of the stress of not knowing where you’re going and having to make decisions about where to turn instantly. You just have to be able to interpret the GPS. Just like that — the skill of having to read a map is rendered mostly moot.
I know of a teenager who had a 10:00 PM curfew. He had driven to a high school friend’s home which was a 20 minute drive from home. At 11:30 PM his parents were a wreck because he was not home yet. What happened? Did he crash? Where was he? Shortly afterwards, he called home to say that he was in a town two hours north of where he lived. He took a wrong turn. He kept looking for the familiar highway exit sign that he was used to taking.
After 2-1/2 hours of driving — and not seeing the exit — he finally pulled over and called his parents who told him to turn around. Eventually, he got home safely.
Many teens with Asperger’s syndrome are very rules bound. This boy knew the name of the exit. He should have realized after 10 or 15 minutes of driving that he passed the exit. But it took him two hours to realize something was wrong.
5. Give teens with Asperger’s syndrome extra driving instructions and practice
If you still aren’t sure if your teen is ready, let them have as much extra practice, with you or an instructor in the car, as necessary. Perhaps they just need a little more time to get the hang of certain skills.
If your teen fails the driver’s test the first time, reassure them that this happens to many people, including those without Asperger’s syndrome. One person with Asperger’s syndrome I know had to take the test 5 times, but is a great driver now.
6. Wait until 17 or 18 to start driving
You may want to wait a few years for your Asperger’s syndrome teen to take lessons so that they can catch up developmentally. There is no reason they HAVE to learn at 16. They can wait until 17, 18 or even longer if they want. There should never be a pressure to “keep up with their peers” if they do not feel ready.
Again, whether or not your loved one with Asperger’s syndrome is ready to drive is a personal decision that should be made only by your family.
Good luck and I am sure that whatever your family’s decision is for teaching your teenager with Asperger’s syndrome to drive, it will be the right one for you.
For additional information and practical tips to help your Asperger’s teenager not only survive but thrive and lead a happy and successful life, see the Asperger’s Syndrome Guide for Teens and Young Adults.
Related article: Is Your Asperger’s Syndrome Teen Ready to Drive?