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.
I can’t blame anyone, autism is complex. I hope to change the perception that people with autism can’t drive. Hopefully, I can work towards changing that perception with this post and my speaking engagements throughout Connecticut. I published a presentation on this topic on the DSS website, and I want to expand on a concept I brought up in that presentation. I introduced a notion that allows the individual, their parents, and professionals to explore this topic. This idea is based on motivation.
Motivation, as you know, is the inner drive, we all have in varying degrees. In this context, motivation has four main parts, which are the individual’s job field, their location, available services, and their internal feelings. I based this upon my own experience. Keep in mind that others may have very different experiences with driving. Nevertheless, this concept covers all the important aspects, and I plan to go to each one in detail.
The very first thing to consider for you, the individual, is your job field:
- What career path do you see yourself in?
This is important because some jobs require you to have a license, like a delivery boy for example. Other jobs such as those in an office setting would likely have you stay in one building. To use me as an example, working in the field of autism requires me to have a license. Sometimes home visits are made to a client’s home, job site, or another location. I checked several job listings on the online job site Indeed and each one had that license requirement. Once you figured out a job field, ask yourself these following questions.
- Do you need to drive?
- Are there alternative sources of transportation?
With some jobs, you could get away with public transit but using public transit can be unpredictable and cause you delays. This can really be an issue in getting around a small town such as New Hartford, CT. Anyway, knowing the chosen job field is important in determining the need for driving. If I did not have what it takes to drive, I would not be able to be in the field I love.
The second important consideration is your location. Ask yourself these following questions:
- Are you near any noticeable towns/cities?
- Are you in a rural town?
- What highways are near you?
The reason why I bring these up is that where you end up working often determines your location and where you will live. If you work nearby, that is wonderful. If you work in a more rural town, there is a good chance you will need to drive. If you’re in the city, the choices of transportation vary. For me, I in nearby the Farmington area, so I am near places like West Hartford, Southington, Plainville, Bloomfield, and Hartford. Knowing your area can give you ideas about where to go to practice driving and what the job market is like. Lastly, think about your loved one’s friends and where they are located because it is important down the road. Basically, you will want to create a network of areas and parking lots so you can use to practice driving.
The third crucial consideration is the services of your area. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is Paratransit an option?
- Are there any driving schools in your area?
- Is Uber available?
- Are driving assessments available?
Paratransit is a service that depends on the type of area you are in. Uber can be quite nice, and I used this for some years. The two problems with Uber are some places had a lack of Uber drivers, and it gets costly quickly. Driving schools can be very effective. I used Next Street in Avon, which had about 30 hours of classroom time and 8 hours of road lessons. The cars that were used by student drivers had a second break on their passenger side. I had a very pleasant experience with Avon and the lessons really helped get me comfortable behind the wheel. I have heard that some schools could be too vigorous but that depends on the school. Some high schools like Farmington have an in-school driving lesson hosted by Next Street. This is a good tip for parents reading this to consider, especially if their teen is currently in high school. If you or any parents are uncomfortable about driving and need more reassurance, EasterSeals has a driving assessment that puts the individual goes into a simulator to test driving skills. Even though Connecticut does not have a lot of driving services, it is generally a good idea to know what you can use to help yourself out.
The final component of “Motivation” is the most important because it all comes down to the individual to decide. It is about their internal feelings. Answer these questions:
- Have you felt held back because of your inability to drive?
- Do you have any fears about driving?
I ask these questions because they can the biggest impact in the decision-making process. I asked myself these very same questions. I felt lonely because my friends are all over Connecticut and my options were limited. My patience with public transit was running out, and I knew I needed to do something about driving. At the time, my schedule dictated that I drive only on weekends, which limited my time. I also feared I would be rejected in my chosen field of work because of not being able to drive. What kept me going was my determination to make this happen. I refused to believe that I was powerless and pushed myself to every location and planning each trip to make it happen. Your feelings and your inner drive matter a lot in deciding on wanting to drive.
You can do it – I did!
All in all, ASD and driving is a scary thought for good reasons, but it is not impossible. The most important thing to remember is that if you or your teen/young adult is not ready to drive yet, that is okay. There is no magic age to start driving! To parents reading this, don’t dismiss it out of hand because of your fears. That might possibly create significant future consequences for your teen/young adult. I have some final tips to share before I close:
- Start at an empty parking lot
- Do not force your teen/young adult into anything they are not comfortable with
- Do not discourage them
- For parents with younger children, start working on effective functioning skills early, so they can get a head start with driving when the time comes
- Also, do not forget to review insurance coverage and liability to make sure you have the correct coverage at an appropriate price