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Techniques to Calm Driver’s Anxiety for Autistics

  • October 19, 2022
  • Katie Zame

Driving can bring in many emotions for anyone. There are some people that take great joy in traveling long distances and then there are others who are more cautious about driving in general. Anxiety can become an internal barrier for some drivers due to either internal or external fears they may have. I often get messages from self-advocates and parents on this topic. Anxiety can occur due to any past experiences, fear of unknowns, and general complexities of driving. Given what we went over in past blogs like highway driving, and snow travel, it makes sense for anxiety to emerge, and that is not even going into unruly drivers. Today at Driving with Autism, we are going over some techniques autistic drivers may use to calm their anxiety.

Sensory Tools: One of the ways to counter anxiety as an autistic driver is having sensory tools near you for any drive. Sensory tools can be anything from music, plushes, sunglasses, and wraps. Their main function is to manage any senses during a drive, which is full of sensory input. Due to how limitless sensory tools can be and how drivers can customize them, they can be good to combat anxiety. You may already have something familiar and smooth in your car. Each driver has a responsibility to be safe on the road and finding what works for you to help calm anxiety could make all the difference.

Driving routine: Having a self-paced driving routine and rituals can help in calming any anxiety. One of the best feelings a driver has is the freedom to choose whatever road they want. You do not always have to go on the highway every day, in fact, you can go on all back roads. Sensory tools can also be a part of a routine. It is all about how you manage your drives, techniques included. Taking advantage of possible rest stops along your route might also help to calm anxiety. Stopping and giving your brain a quick rest, along with being able to stretch your legs for a minute, could soothe any anxiety or nervousness. Not only that, but it helps energize mental energy and gets your focus back into completing your drive. You can set these resting stops in any of your drives, especially for long trips.

You can also use these rituals for anything new that comes up. New experiences are inevitable during driving, and one cannot avoid them. Using the rituals mentioned before can make the new elements digestible and you can do some long-term planning before touching the steering wheel. During my own drives, I use Google Maps to look at locations before committing to the drive. I look at the location’s lane roads, note any stoplights, and anything else I should be aware of. This allows me to expect some traffic elements even before I get there. It is a lot better than being in the dark about it. Google Maps also allows you to play with options like turning tolls and even highway offs while using the GPS. If your anxiety goes away after preplanning a trip like that, then it is something that works for you.

Check out a doctor/therapist: This is another option people can use to look into and manage their anxiety. Since experiences can shape overall feelings about a concept, a past negative experience, like a car accident can bring about anxiety. This could cause someone to swear off driving for good or at least, be terrified. With a therapist that specializes in anxiety, they can talk to you about methods and relaxation techniques. There is more than one therapy style that can address anxiety; some examples include cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy. It is important to find the one that works the best for you. With doctors, you may get some prescriptions that can target anxiety. Finding what works for you is important!

All in all, anxiety does not have to be the barrier to your learning to drive. There are numerous ways to help you overcome the challenges anxiety comes with. From sensory tools and planning your route, to getting specialized help from mental health professionals. I want to point out that the key thing is not rushing your way to driving but being able to self-pace yourself. We at Driving with Autism can help you go over self-pacing habits and connect to local resources to help with general anxiety. We touch upon strategies that can help with anxiety in our topics on driving situations and overcoming them and sensory processing. If you are interested in our Webinar series for Driving With Autism and the other topics it covers you can learn more here.

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