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What Sensory Tools You May Need As An Autistic Driver

  • June 10, 2022
  • Andrew Arboe

As we went over in our blog on sensory processing, sensory needs are very important to go over for any new driver. Driving is very sensory-based because you use various senses to make sense of the general roads and traffic. You see various sights that your eyes must process in seconds, noises to process as well, you smell the car itself and the outside environment, and you touch the feeling of your inside car. That is not even going into executive functioning where judging the distances of objects may be a challenge for some autistic drivers. Sensory needs can make or break a driving experience for some folks, but it does not have to be that. There are a set of tools that can help people manage whatever sensory needs they may have. Today, we are going over what tools you may use during driving to help manage those senses. Keep in mind that tools can be very different for autistic individuals and that is the beauty of it.

Music: This has boundless potential in being a very usual sensory tool for autistic individuals. Before we proceed, music can be a distraction so if you get distracted by the music, I advise using a different method entirely. It is always important to have your 100% attention on the road itself. On the flip side, music can help someone be transported into a hyperfocus state where they use the music to focus on whatever their main task is. To give a personal example, I use various video game soundtracks to help me with my daily drives. It gives me the hyper-focus I need for my drives, and I never get distracted. I play a lot of background and vocal songs from game series like the NieR series and some Nintendo games. More people are surprised when I bring this up. It is not always specific music; I play other music to mix it up. The feeling I get from it is a rush where I am in control of my drives, and it enhances the experience.

Podcast/radio: Same idea as with the music, especially with the boundless choices that you can pick from. If your car was Bluetooth and USB port capabilities, you can get creative with your choices. There is always a topic that podcasts do not fail to cover, and you make your autistic driving trips informative. One topic may be on politics or sports, and another be on movie discussions/reviews. Same thing with radio stations where you can select many stations you want. If you want to get very retro, you can add old radio station files into a thumb drive and listen to them while you drive. During a one-hour trip for a resource fair in Connecticut, I grabbed an episode of Lux Theater Radio, a station that adapts classic movies into radio form. I drove while listening to Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and it was a wonderful experience. That shows the unlimited potential for sensory tools one can use.

Plushes: The idea seems impractical and has no general function inside a car, upset it does have a reason to be there. Having a plush inside your car’s dashboard creates a sense of familiarity in that space. Not only that, but it could be a positive association for a driver. It could be associated with good memories, or it could remind you of a movie you enjoyed. If sensory overload ever occurs, an autistic driver could use it to calm themselves down at a stopped spot. Whatever the reason, it is not strange to see plushes in other cars. The next time you look at people’s dashboards, you are bound to see some with plushes.

Other items: There are more items that one can use to maintain sensory senses in practical ways. One example is sunglasses one can use to block out the sun’s rays. The sun can be a distraction at certain hours of the day, so sunglasses can make it more bearable. There are even nighttime glasses that reduce the high/mid beam lights of cars during the night. People tend to dislike that one car that has its high beam lights all the time and those glasses can help. Another item that can make the inside of your car more comfortable is customizable wraps you can cover the steering wheel and even seat belts. You can get a specific design and it will fit overall in those car objects.

Overall, sensory tools can give you that edge in bringing your best self out during driving. Some of the items seem silly, but drivers use them all the time. While some may add to problems depending on aspects, it has the potential of empowering drivers. It is all with finding the right sensory tools that work for you. We at Driving with Autism will help in finding the tools you need to be successful in driving, including sensory tools. We talk about this topic more in-depth over in our webinar series in the Sensory Processing and Limiting Sensory Overload session. That 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 autistic driving sensory processing.

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