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Sensory Processing And How It Relates To Being Autistic And Learning To Drive

  • May 4, 2022
  • Andrew Arboe

Everyone uses sensory input to make sense of the world throughout their day, and driving is no exception. Sounds and sights are the obvious ones, but even smells can be important to driving! This means that there is a lot of good sensory information to help drivers make sense of everything going on, but it also means there is a lot of sensory information to take in at all times. And this can be a lot for many autistic individuals. Autistic individuals who are hypersensitive to a certain sound, sight, smell, or touch often have more difficulty with many typical driving environments. Some individuals may go into a sensory overload state and that is quite dangerous on the road as well as a miserable time for the driver themselves. This is why sensory processing and what it means to autistic drivers is a concept that must be addressed thoroughly and effectively, and that’s what Driving With Autism is all about!

By discussing sensory processing and an individual’s unique sensory difficulties they may have in driving environments, they can be better prepared for those situations. As autistic individuals, it is important to not only know what sights or sounds bother or distract you but also how they distract you and how you can minimize that distraction. Dealing with sensory sensitivities can be a big challenge to new autistic drivers, but it’s also an issue that can be systematically dealt with by exploring exactly what issues are likely to arise and understanding the best ways to handle them. There are plenty of autistic individuals who are regular drivers and have earned and kept their driver's licenses for years. Safe autistic drivers exist, and many even teach drivers education. It’s important to understand driving safely is about developing driving skills. Handling sensory issues and possible sensory overloads is just another skill that needs to be developed.

Sensory overload is vital to discuss but it’s not always simple to do so. For instance, it looks different for every individual in regards to sensory differences. To provide a few examples, one individual with sensitivity to lights may have a hard time with police sirens or high beam lights during nighttime. Another may have an issue estimating the space and distance between cars on the road. These are completely different situations, but both the driver's ability to process what’s going on around them is being limited in ways that must be understood and accounted for. Both of these problems can also become very overwhelming very quickly. This is when sensory overload starts affecting the driver's emotional state, and that is scary, but it’s also something that can be effectively prepared for by knowing yourself and making the right decisions.

If sensory overload occurs and it causes the emotions to go south, head into a parking lot nearby like a gas station and give oneself’ the time needed to let it pass. The last thing anyone wants is a driver causing an accident and possibly involving others as well. Being a good driver means a lot of things, including making sure there is enough time to relax, chill out, and recover before getting on the road.

This is why the fourth topic we cover in our webinar Training Series is Sensory Processing and Limiting Sensory Overload. The objective of this topic is to learn about sensory needs and how they affect each of us differently, especially while driving. We also discuss how to reduce the possibility of sensory overload. This topic will review the senses that we use while driving and ways to address certain sensory needs. We will even connect this to previous topics by exploring how managing fatigue and stress while driving is intricately related to sensory processing.

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


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