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Choosing The Right Driving School As An Autistic Driver

  • November 11, 2022
  • Katie Zame

A common milestone in every individual’s learning-to-drive journey is attending a driving school. A new driver will typically take a 30-hour class with a curriculum that focuses on teaching the basics and the dangers of driving, supplemented with several road lessons. Driving schools may exist in their own building, or they may have a program in a local high school. Regardless of where they are located or how they individually operate, driving schools are very common and you can often find at least one in every town. Finding the “right” driving school on the other hand can be a lot more difficult. Different types of driving schools work for different people. For autistic drivers, this becomes extra complicated because not every driving school will have a program that is inclusive of an autistic individual’s needs. An individual’s needs can come in many different forms. For autistic drivers specifically, sensory sensitivities, intrinsic motivation, and executive functioning are common areas of difficulty. Learning to drive is an entirely individualistic experience, so there isn’t a one size fits all approach for teaching new drivers, especially if they are autistic. Finding the right driving school for an autistic driver is often a difficult process. There is good news for autistic drivers though! Driving with Autism is here to help with that! Adaptive driving schools do exist, and they not only teach autistic drivers but individuals with other disabilities as well. Let’s compare typical and adaptive driving schools in order to help you make an informed choice on what driving school is right for your situation.

Let’s begin by looking at typical driving schools. Here are the features and services that most driving schools have and offer:

  1. They are in most towns and even some high schools.
  2. They cover driver education (in-person & online). This education is around 35 hours long and covers the basics of driving, road rules, signs, and how to manage road situations. There are often different packages you can sign up for that include further education such as an 8-hour safe driving course on top of the full-education course.
  3. They include one on one tutoring for permit and license tests.
  4. They often offer license testing and the option for a mockup test.
  5. A driving school in your area will include road lessons that are typically close to where you will often be driving.
  6. The cars from driving schools have brakes on the passenger side that the instructor can use for safety and teaching.

Accommodations are an important thing to discuss when comparing adaptive driving schools with typical driving schools. Every driving school offers some level of accommodations. Though what someone can ask for accommodations wise varies greatly from school to school. Below are some of the more common accommodations that an autistic individual can ask for and receive at a typical driving school

  1. Sunglasses
  2. Chewing gum
  3. Playing chosen music during the drive

Before we move on to discussing adaptive driving schools, I want quickly discuss instructors. Instructors are often one of the most important people in an individual’s learning-to-drive journey. Instructors lay the foundation for the way someone will think about driving, and they help new drivers get comfortable with being in a car and on the road. The best thing to look for in any driving instructor is a willingness to be patient, to learn, and to actively solve problems. An instructor who is not patient will have difficulty understanding how most drivers operate, let alone someone with extra needs to be accounted for.

Now, let’s look at Adaptive Driving Programs and Adaptive Driving Schools. Here are the common features and services that you can expect:

  1. The staff tends to be instructors who have extra qualifications for working with various disabled populations. Some examples include ADHD, learning disabilities, and autism. Sometimes this staff has come from an occupational therapist background and can work with individuals on improving their mobility. Staff may also come from a Driver Rehab Specialist background, which is someone who develops transportation plans for specific individuals. Therefore, some of the staff may be trained by the Association For Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (ADED)
  2. They offer thorough driver and clinical assessments. These tools assess a driver’s ability to manage everything they must while behind the wheel. Specifically, they focus on assessing executive functioning and mobility.
  3. They often offer unique and specialized training. Many offer both behind-the-wheel and assistive technology training with individuals.
  4. Everything is done with the individuals’ goals and independence in mind. Even in alternative transportation training, the individual is taught how to manage and be independent with it.

Whatever driving school you choose to go to, know that any kind of driving school is a valid choice. Thinking in a “this is the only way” mindset is limiting yourself and your choices and that will only add to your stress. Pick the option that works best for you and have a backup option if it doesn’t go well. You may be surprised by the choice you make, and you may be very surprised by how well it goes. It is those possibilities that are worth chasing after. We at Driving with Autism can help you connect to the right school, and we have a partner page with an interactive map that lets you see what schools we partner with in any state.

If you are interested in our Webinar series for Driving With Autism and the other topics it covers you can learn more here.

Contact us for autism-centered virtual education driving school training.


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