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Can Autistic People Drive?

  • October 6, 2022
  • Andrew Arboe

We have seen this question pop up several times in person and in virtual space during the years of listening to autistic individuals, parents, and professionals. Some articles focus on the general challenges, while some just list specific therapies and services. Others may unintentionally add to the sense of dread in individuals since they’ve likely heard more stories about this topic. As I go over in our webinar program at Driving with Autism, external barriers can change a person’s perspective when researching this topic. It is why for this article, we want to go more in-depth with the major aspects of this question, not just the surface level. Our main answer is yes, autistic individuals can drive, but it is important to review the complexities that go into it. Those complexities include the motivation of why one wants to drive, the responsibility that comes along with it, the universal strengths and strategies, and the health and condition aspects. We aim to give our audience the most information we can so they can have the best chance of success.

The first thing that can influence the ability to drive is motivation or the reason behind someone wanting to drive. This is the most important step to understand before going forward with driving. Individuals have many different reasons to drive and are sometimes both practical and not practical. Some drive because they can get more job opportunities, be able to engage more in the community, get to their dream college, and others drive for the feeling of freedom. My personal reason for driving is employment-based because my degree required that I drive in my field. If I did not drive, I would not be typing this blog, nor would I have been able to start Driving with Autism in the first place. Transportation can open various doors and that is why knowing what you want out of driving will determine your driving ability. Learn more about how we help autistic individuals learn how to drive.

The second element that can play into this question is individuals respecting the responsibility of driving. Driving certainly has feelings of pleasure and rush, but it includes the complex cognition and understanding of driving laws and practices. It is important to know that driving is not a right, but a privilege. It is why education like our courses and other schools focuses on this a lot. Cars can not only take us to most places, but they have the capability to hurt someone. Driving recklessly, not following road signs, and being distracted are all things that put not only the driver in danger, but others on the road too. Therefore, drivers must accept this responsibility to be safe drivers and be informed of laws and regulations.

The third element is the strength of individual drivers and the strategies they use. The good thing about the strengths is that they are universal for any driver, autistic or not. Attention to detail, multitasking, hyperfocus, and quick reflexes are all used to drive safety. Even most driving strategies are also universal and individuals of any ability can learn them, like driving the speed limit and being aware of their surroundings. It is however important to address there are also more challenges that autistic individuals could face that are more of the autism characteristics. Those characteristics include rigid mindsets, sensory processing, social challenges, executive functioning challenges, and other conditions like anxiety. It varies for each individual and is not the same for everyone. Thankfully, learning driving strategies can help address sensory processing needs and executive functioning challenges. Individuals must find strategies that work best for them to ease into driving and that is one of the ways we help with at Driving with Autism.

Finally, the last aspect is health and comorbid conditions that play a role into deciding to drive or not. Just like autism is different in each person, comorbid conditions are no different. Some folks may be also diagnosed with ADHD, one may have an anxiety disorder, or others a seizure disorder. It is important to consider comorbid conditions in the decision because it can be something that makes driving unsafe. Sometimes with seizure disorders, if the seizures cannot be managed, then driving could be either very unsafe or impossible. Therefore, clinical assessments are important because they can assess an individual’s driving ability and factor in those conditions.

In closing, autistic individuals can drive, but there are many complexities that could add challenges to someone’s driving journey. Just as individuals are more than capable to drive, others can have various challenges, and some cannot drive at all due to complex needs. What makes this complicated is the internal barriers of individuals and especially external barriers, which consist of local and state resources and transportation options. If major organizations do not talk about driving, you are more likely to see more focus on public transportation or other topics. If one lives in a rural area where driving is a must, it becomes challenging to find something that works. It is why Driving with Autism focuses on teaching individuals how to create strategies for their specific needs, but it is their responsibility for both self-care and driving. We understand how complex driving can be and we aim to empower individuals with whatever choices they make. With good supports and determination, anything can be possible. If you are interested in learning more, check out our webinar series here: Autism Driving Prep Education Classes | Purchase Training

Please reach out to us at Driving with Autism and contact us for autism-centered virtual education driving school training.


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