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Tapping Into Driver Motivation As An Autistic Driver

  • March 29, 2022
  • Andrew Arboe

Driving is a complex thing. This may seem obvious, but driving is complex not only in the obvious ways but in many subtle and unexpected ways too, especially if you’re autistic. As an autistic driver myself I’ve found one of the most overlooked complexities is how motivation fits into learning to drive. As I like to say, inner motivation and learning go hand in hand. Each is made extraordinary more effective by the presence of the other. You need to be motivated if you’re going to put in the work required to learn. And the more you learn and the more skilled you get, the more motivated you tend to be. Motivation is a constant and a core piece of the learning experience.

I was motivated to create Driving With Autism because of the lack of resources I saw during my journey. I saw that my state had barebones programs and limited transportation options that severely varied by district. Over the last few years of doing consultant work and creating Driving with Autism, I am constantly asked if autistic people can learn to drive, and that is a reasonable question with a very complicated answer. I have found that with the right support, it is possible for autistic people to drive much more often than most people expect, including the autistic individual themselves at times. However, driving is not for everybody, and this is especially true in the autistic population due to certain difficulties that can make driving much more difficult or much less safe. Driving isn’t for every autistic person, but every autistic person deserves the opportunity to explore if it is for them. And this brings us back to motivation. It is important for individuals who are thinking of learning to drive to ask themselves: Do they want to drive? Without motivation, it doesn't matter what someone can do, because they are likely not interested in moving forward with it. Let’s discuss some potential sources of motivation and what it means to tap into them.

A very valuable source of motivation for new drivers to explore is external factors such as seeing friends, visiting family, employment, and other types of work. There are endless external motivations for learning to drive, including traveling more often or engaging more with hobbies that require driving, but there are a few that routinely come up in my conversations with autistic drivers. I like to focus on employment and work. This can be a very broad category and applies to everything from driving to work to make some money, to getting paid to drive people or things around, to driving to volunteer work that’s exciting and fulfilling. It’s also worth considering this in the context of a driver’s future. As independence grows, being able to drive can facilitate that growth. I find this is particularly true for autistic individuals who are moving to a new place to live or getting a new job. One of the external motivators that I could relate to the most considering my circumstances was employment. Let’s take a second to really look at how deeply intertwined employment can be to driving, and why that makes it a fantastic source of motivation.

Driving expands job and social opportunities for autistic individuals to an extremely high extent. Many jobs require “reliable transportation” which in suburban areas might mean a car is the only choice. Other jobs, such as delivery drivers, actually pay their workers to drive around. When I was looking for jobs in the autism field, I saw listings like mentoring which required driving a certain number of miles. Considering the roles of mentoring, it made a lot of sense. Since it made sense as a requirement and it was something I really wanted to do, there was only one thing to do next: learn how to drive. I became extremely motivated to get my license, and it was because I knew it was a step forward in my career path. Knowing what your career field looks like transportation-wise will allow you to explore many different sources of motivation. It’s all about finding what makes you excited to learn, and then tapping into that source.

Now let’s talk about some internal motivations for learning to drive. First, though, I’d like to mention that this information is applicable to pretty much any learning-to-drive journey. Whether you are going to a Driving School, taking a Driver’s Education course online, or learning to drive from family members it’s vital that you are motivated. There are certainly many exciting internal motivations for getting a license such as feelings of pride, independence, accomplishment, freedom, or simply proving to yourself you could do it. However, and this likely won’t surprise anyone reading this, the internal motivation I find most common in new/potential autistic drivers and their families is fear. A fear that is pushing them away from learning to drive. This fear is understandable, but it’s even present in individuals and families who want to do this and who aren’t happy with how their fear is holding them back. This is why I want to mention that how a driver understands their fears can actually be a powerful source of motivation.

Knowing your fears is important. While they can be a large barrier for new drivers, they can also be an important source of motivation. New drivers must be honest with themselves about what their fears are. My fear was that I would be rejected from the field I completed a degree for simply because I couldn’t drive. That fear created pressure, and I let that pressure get to me on several occasions. It took a lot of self-determination and support to offset those negative feelings. As I learned to stop focusing on fear, I started paying more attention to overcoming the barriers keeping me from my best life. I saw the fear as something I could overcome, a challenge that I could meet. Once the fear was defined and understood, it was easier to push back against. At a certain point, what used to be a fear that held me back became my biggest source of motivation pushing me forward. It starts with being honest with yourself, but it can lead to amazing things.

Motivation is crucial. I mean talk about things that drive us! We couldn’t get anywhere without motivation. Exploring motivation has been so important to me, and I am so glad I got to share it with you today. Yes, driving has a lot of gray areas and is not for everyone. That’s why Driving with Autism is built on the fact that autistic individuals can learn to drive so much more often than most people expect, and autistic individuals deserve the ability to fully explore that opportunity. In the end, this really is about the opportunity. For freedom, independence, and much more. Learning to drive can be a meaningful experience if it is for you. We are here to help autistic individuals and their families make informed decisions about transportation, and I hope this piece helped you do just that.

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Andrew Arboe is the Founder of Driving with Autism and specializes in helping autistic drivers and their families pursue driving as a transportation option. He found his path in driving because of his personal experiences learning how to drive, while autistic. He saw the difficulties that a lack of resources and research can add to transportation, which connects people to opportunities, employment, and secondary education. It is for those reasons he chose to challenge the lack of resources by presenting workshops, consulting with autistic individuals and parents, and much more. Andrew knows that he cannot speak for everyone’s experience, so he embraces using tips, tricks, and important concepts to help new drivers create their own roadmap for learning to drive.


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