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Autistic Individuals Should Expect More from Their Driving Schools

  • March 3, 2022
  • Andrew Arboe

Driving schools are important. There's a reason they are a staple of American life and the learning to drive journey many in our society go on. The primary purpose of driving schools is training new drivers to be safe drivers. This is done by providing in-depth drivers’ education and behind-the-wheel road lessons. While many benefit from driving schools, the current way most driving schools function can make them difficult environments for autistic new drivers. These drivers may have extra challenges specific to autism that they need to overcome and on top of that they often face further challenges stemming from the environment or attitude of the school. Most of these schools simply aren’t prepared for autistic clients. This turns an extremely important and valuable resource in learning to drive, into an ineffective, and often frustrating service that not only doesn’t help autistic drivers but consistently turns them away from wanting to learn to drive in general. At Driving With Autism we have been very clear that driving isn’t for everybody, but we also know from firsthand experience, including our Founder Andrew Arboes’ that driving is a possibility much more often than it is considered one for autistic individuals. Autistic individuals need to be able to access the resources driving schools provide and to do that we need to expect more from our driving schools.

To get more specific, let’s discuss a few topics that are typically not covered in traditional driving schools. These topics are crucial for autistic drivers, or drivers with a number of different disabilities or neurotypes, to understand. By covering these topics and encouraging discussions around them, driving schools show their commitment to being accessible to the neurodiverse population.

Sensory Processing

Every autistic individual has different sensory sensitivities. Some individuals are more sensitive to sounds, lights, smells, or the feel of different textures. Because driving includes a lot of important sensory information coming at the driver at once, it is important to discuss autistic drivers’ sensory challenges and what can be done to overcome or handle them.

Executive Functioning

Driving uses a lot of executive functioning, which is one of the main abilities impacted by autism. Some examples of executive functioning that driving usually entails include multitasking, focusing attention, and planning. If these things are difficult for a driver they need to be prepared to compensate with strategies and skills.

Tapping into the motivation of new drivers

It is important to know the motivation of the student who wants to drive. Motivation can come in the form of wanting freedom to travel, going to college, and gaining employment. Many autistic individuals aren’t excited about driving itself, as it comes with a lot of anxiety, but may be motivated to learn by something else they want to achieve in their lives. Motivation isn’t a simple thing, and it’s important to tap into when learning to drive. This means putting in time and effort to thoroughly understand why an autistic individual wants to learn to drive and how that motivation can be integrated into their learning experience.

Finding Good Instructors

Working with autistic driving students often involves a lot of creativity and imagination. Thinking outside the box is necessary to create an experience that is beneficial for autistic drivers. The right accommodations aren’t always about knowing what’s worked for others but being willing to explore what works for each individual. A lot of the time this comes down to having instructors who are understanding, dedicated, and creative.

Co- morbid Conditions

Many diagnoses are commonly comorbid with autism and also play a large role in an individual’s personal driving experience. ADHD, anxiety, and depression are particularly common comorbidities for autism. If a driver is co-morbid (has multiple conditions) this means that there is even more they should be aware of before getting behind the wheel. Meltdowns, seizures, sensory overload, and other similar conditions that are made more likely by comorbidities can quickly make driving very dangerous. Every driver should know themselves well and know what situations to look out for and be aware of.

This is where our consultants and every autistic individual reading this come in. At Driving With Autism we love consulting with Driving Schools to help them be more accessible to autistic individuals. But these important conversations often come about because an autistic individual in their program spoke up and the school found us to help with their newly identified issue. In these situations, our goal is to empower driving schools to have them create solutions in teaching their autistic students. We stress the importance of individuality. What works for one person is likely to not work for everyone. It is important to never have a one size fits all approach. Whether it’s through our professional consulting based on years of experience, or simply autistic individuals speaking up about the challenges they’re facing, we are proud to be some of the many autistic people rightly demanding more from their Driving Schools.

If you are involved with a driving school in any capacity and would like to chat further about our consulting services, please don’t hesitate to reach out! We’d love to work together to provide the best services possible to autistic individuals.

Driving With Autism is excited to be part of your learning to drive journey! We have a number of free resources including other blog posts, a free eBook, and a Newsletter you can sign up for! In January 2022 we will also be running our first 7-Part educational webinar series on various topics that are crucial to learning to drive as an autistic individual. You can learn more and sign up for these courses by navigating to the “Buy Training Series” tab at the top of the page. We have a specific package that comes with extra resources such as a 60-minute consultation with Founder Andrew Arboe and access to our Resource Library which covers all 50 states. We look forward to hearing from you and we look forward to working with you!

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