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Autism

8 Tips for Drivers with Autism

Posted by Andrew Arboe on Jan 5, 2021 4:39:23 PM

Ever since I got my driver’s license last October, I traveled to a lot of places. I started just in nearby areas as a start and built my way up. Nowadays, I go on some highways I like, which allows me to keep doing the things I love, which is being connected to the community. For this, I want to give 8 tips for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who drive, among with regular drivers as well. While driving gets easier, the beginning steps can be overwhelming. I am here to make it somewhat easier for you.

  1. Give Yourself Time to be Ready for Driving: My instructor told me once that when one drives, the individual must be 100% ready to drive. It makes sense because you are basically using your energy to focus on the wheel and observing all the interactions on the roads. If you feel you do not have energy, it may not be the best idea to go off and drive. Sometimes you may not be 100%. You might feel tired some days or have a headache on a random day. It is also important to be used to different energy levels while driving, so you can be adaptive on the road and be responsible.
  2. Preset Your Car Every Time Before You Start the Day: Before you even start driving, always preset your car. Walk around the car to check for any leaks. Check your tires to make sure they have enough air. You can buy a measuring device for tires and it is generally easy to check the gauge. Check your lights as well because if one is not on, you must find a replacement soon as you can. Inside your car, you can preset your windows, music, time, GPS of choice, and so on. The reason why this is important is because it allows you to drive without distractions inside of your car. If you play around with the GPS and/or music, there is a risk of being distracted.
  3. Take Care of the Sensory Aspects: This may not be an issue for some drivers with ASD, but it can be for some. Lighting, feeling of objects, and even movements of the roads can be noticeable for someone with sensory processing issues. If you know that you are not a fan of lights, have a pair of sunglasses to help block out the brightness. Have a specific item in your car that help address any potential sensory aspect. If there is something upsetting and you need a reason to calm down, stop somewhere like a gas station and use your comfort item to regroup. Personally, I usually play a lot of video game music in my drives, so I carry CDs in my car.
  4. GPS: To counter the idea of loss of direction during driving, using a GPS device would work wonders. You can use your phone as one, but it must stay at one place and it is a bad idea to toy with it while driving. What I do is attach a magnet on my phone, which attaches to another magnet near the middle dash area of the car. That way, I can look at it once, and I still have my eyes on the road. Another device you could use is a TomTom, which is a sole GPS device. Having one around is handy, especially if there is a chance of your phone battery dying. Either way, the more times you go on a route, you are more likely to remember it. I find myself using a GPS, and then later, I can drive to a route without using it.
  5. Switching Up Routes: Having that routine is never a bad thing. I have road routines as well, but I learned that it is perfectly okay to switch up your routes every now and them. Sometimes, some roads have construction and depending how they set it up, they may have closed some roads as a result. Basically, you must use a different route to get somewhere. It is annoying sometimes, but it does have its surprises. I ended up finding some new roads that are more convenient for my future drives. Plus, it is always good to discover new roads.
  6. Left Turns: These type of turns can be very dangerous, especially when you do not have a green arrow. It is one of the big reasons why new drivers fail the road test. You must judge the right moment to turn, while using everything you have learned for said turn. Then, you have towns or cities that dislike or lack green arrows. Hartford, as an example, does not have convenient green arrows at certain busy intersections and you must judge the right moment. That can be scary, and I experienced this a couple of times. As you plan out your routes, make full use of traffic lights with green arrows, as they are your best friends. In Hartford, I go further near Saint Francis Hospital to get a consistent green arrow to get over to West Hartford. If you are at an intersection with no arrow, take your time and judge when there are no cars driving through the opposite side.
  7. Urban Driving: Cities can be more complex to drive around. Even my own dad admits this at times, and he drives a truck around for his job. This environment is one where you must be 100% alert all the way though, because you will have people crossing the street, questionable drivers, buses picking people up, and other traffic pitfalls. I drove to Hartford on and off due to commitments. The best first step for urban driving is picking a lot close to the road that you are familiar with. I use a parking lot near The Bushnell for my Hartford visits and because I am familiar with the roads after the Capitol, I can get out of Hartford more easily. Keep in mind, I am still learning more about this aspect, the more I decide to go to an urban area. Basically, take baby steps for these types of settings.
  8. Highways: This can be tricky. While it has less rules, it can have risks to it. You have probably seen reports of accidents on the news while drivers were on major highways in your area. It can be intense at times, but the steps to get started with highway driving are basic. The first time involves being used to two-lane roads and the concept of lane changing. A lot of roads in areas have these and they are important, mainly to get used to the idea of having other drivers pass you. Then, you work on lane changing and getting used to using your mirrors to make a good lane change. This is important because there are highways that are just two lanes with a speed limit at 65 or 70 mph. That type of highway was perfect for me, because I was already used to two-lanes roads. I used Route 8 up in Winsted to become familiar with the highway speeds. It works because it has a road that merges into a highway, so I do not have to do an entrance ramp right away. Speaking of which, after you get used to the speed, the next step is to practice entrance ramps. While scary, it does have some rules to help. Usually, most drivers slow down when a driver is merging on the highway. Not all, but generally. The most important thing is using your mirrors to merge and to always use them to be aware of other drivers’ behaviors. I could go all day on highway driving, but the last thing I will say is – if a car in front of you is slow, you can do a lane change. You must be at the highway speed at all times, unless an accident has occurred or there is a slowdown, and it often becomes a parking lot until you exit.

One final note to say for any driver: forgive yourself. This is more for the people who are hard on themselves like I can be at times. Driving can be intense and accidently making one mistake can be scary. I know if I make a mistake or something, I feel bad about myself and beat myself up with that thinking. No matter how unpleasant, remind yourself how far you came. You are a good person and I know that you will bounce back and do the right thing. Do not give up

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7 Things Parents Can Do To Help Their Autistic Teen Drive

Posted by Andrew Arboe on Jan 5, 2021 2:22:48 PM

 

Driving is one of the most important milestones an individual achieves in a lifetime. It symbolizes many things: freedom, responsibility, independence and opportunity.  While many parents expect their children to start driving when they are 16 or 17, things get more complicated when their child is on the autism spectrum.

During many workshops I have delivered on this topic, I’ve seen firsthand how many parents don’t know how to help their autistic young adult get their license.  After all, very few school districts help with driving, and finding resources is always a struggle.  I imagine you have your own similar stories and are looking for advice.  How can you motivate your young adult to drive, and how can you find resources that will actually prepare them for an independent life on the road?

Here’s seven helpful things you, the parent, can do to make driving easier for your young adult with ASD.

1.) Know your young adult, and be patient with them

This seems obvious at first, but it can be hard in practice. You must know your young adult’s preferences, likes, dislikes, and personality.  You also need to know that they are processing things the best they can, and that they can sense if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of them getting behind the wheel.  I remember how uncomfortable my dad was when I first started and knowing that he felt uncomfortable made it harder for me to focus.  Even getting used to parking lots was a challenge because of that tension.

This also leads into my point, which is to be patient!  Again, your young adult is trying the best they can to absorb all kinds of new information.  They will likely learn at their own unique pace, and that’s okay.  If you force them to do something that they are uncomfortable with, it is only going to set up unneeded trouble.  You should also try to get an idea of what they’re feeling, and what’s at stake for them.  Whether they need a license to commute to college, get their own apartment, or get the job they want (as was the case for me), the weight of those stakes may give them no choice but to get their license, and that will likely weigh heavily on them.

2.) Be Aware That Some “Helpful” Advice May Do More Harm Than Good

Be careful of what you say to your young adult, because they may interpret innocuous-sounding advice as something else entirely.  For example, when I first began driving, I hated when my dad used the phrase “pay attention” during practice.  Rather than being helpful, all that phrase did was remind me of the challenges that autism brings, my executive functioning difficulties, and the fact that so few people with autism successfully get their license.  I was so focused on the negative connotations of “pay attention” that the last thing on my mind was paying attention to the road!

As I gained more experience — and my license — I managed to get over it.  But when I first started driving, the use of “pay attention” and similar phrases significantly hindered my progress.

3.) Practice From the Passenger Seat

One of the things that The Next Street Driving School (who, full disclosure, is also one of my employers) recommends new drivers with ASD do is passenger seat driving.  Have your young adult sit shotgun and ask them to explain to you what they would do if they were in the driver’s seat. This should include things like: driving directions, looking ahead 12-15 seconds, seeing speed limit signs, lane choice, signaling and emergency situations.  You may even ask them to give you a script for the trip before you leave: “OK, we are going to the grocery store, give me the route and tell me how you will handle any disruptions we may run into.”  Passenger seat driving is a low risk way to get one’s mind wrapped around driving as a concept, and reinforces what your teen/young adult is learning from their driving instructor.

4.) Use Autistic Traits to Your Advantage

I know what you must be thinking: Doesn’t autism making driving more difficult?  While autism can have a negative impact on driving and daily living, you can leverage some autistic traits, like preferences for routines and schedules, to your advantage.  Integrating routine drives into your young adult’s schedule can go a long way towards developing motivation and self-confidence. Prime your young adult by telling them what they should expect before going for a drive, then have them go on a fun errand like grabbing coffee at Starbucks.  Or, you can integrate driving into their existing schedule. For example, I drove myself to my part-time job on the weekends, then began to take on more long-distances drives as I became more comfortable with my routine.

Those errands and routines may seem simple, but the more times they do it, the more your young adult will get comfortable with the idea of driving. These are the exact same techniques special education workers use to improve a skill, and they make a tremendous difference.

5.) Involve special interests

Integrating special interests into the driving experience can help your young adult focus on the road. For example, I listen to music from my favorite video games, like NieR: Automata and Final Fantasy, to help me focus.  You could also try listening to an audiobook from a favorite author or a podcast on your special interest during commutes.  Once you find something your young adult really likes and can utilize without causing any major distractions, it works wonders.  Feel free to experiment and see what works and what does not work for your young adult.

6.) Don’t rush the process

Just because your young adult’s peers are getting their licenses now doesn’t mean that your young adult has to get it now as well.  The truth of the matter is that there is no “magic age” when driving will happen.  I got my license when I was 25 years old; my coworker is just getting her permit at 24.  I’ve met many people that began their driving journey decades after their peers, including one person who was 40!  Their experiences are proof that getting your license is possible at any age.  The worst thing you can do is force your young adult to drive right now — instead, give them as much time as they need to get comfortable with the idea of driving.

7.) Create a support team

Develop a support team with people you can rely on to take your young adult out for driving practice.  They can be a driving instructor, a spouse, a friend, and/or a family member.  If for whatever reason you feel like you must teach your young adult on your own, familiarize yourself with your options.

Having a team was hugely beneficial for me when I learned to drive.  I had a few friends who had no problem helping me get used to parking, I had an instructor I talked to when I did driver’s ed, and I had other friends I went to for support.  I would not be driving — and teaching others how to get their licenses — if it weren’t for them. There is no shame in having a team help you out. Plus, it grants your young adult supports they can reach out to on their own.  It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

In Conclusion

Driving can be hard, especially when you have autism.  However, it is possible. Being patient and knowing your individual’s preferences can make a difference in instructing them. The good news is that there is going to be a new resource in Connecticut with The Next Street. They are making a brand-new program for the autism population. I am directly involved with that program’s development as well. Currently, one of my many roles as an autism transition coordinator is doing driving consultations with parents like yourself and individuals. If you ever need to get direct input for this topic, I can be reached at arboea@planningacrossthespectrum.com.

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Motivation to Drive for Young Adults with ASD

Posted by Andrew Arboe on Jan 5, 2021 2:17:19 PM

Are you a parent trying to figure out the future of your loved one with autism? Wondering if your teen/young adult could ever drive? Are you scared and not sure where to go? You came to the right place. My name is Andrew Arboe, and not only do I have autism (ASD), but I drive.  I want to start a dialogue about an individual with ASD who drives. In my experience, ASD and driving are often treated as the “elephant” in the room. In considering transportation for those with autism, most often the talk revolves around public transit/ Uber/ Paratransit.

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Learn More About These Tips 

Talk to your family and friends about safe driving habits, and if you're without a driver's license, consider choosing one of our programs. They are easy and stress free! 

Remember:

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens
  • Car crashes are preventable
  • Discussing safe driving habits with family and friends will help spread awareness