Traffic makes you inevitably late for your morning appointment. Loud sirens with bright lights are coming from behind you. You get out to your car and your tire is flat. Driving isn't predictable nor scripted. The only known is that these unknowns are going to happen to you eventually. In Andrew Arboe's Driving With ASD Webinar Series, he goes into great detail on how you can prepare for and create scripts for these unexpected yet inevitable situations. Here, I'll give you a few quick tips to get you started.
First, acknowledge the things that you can control. You can control the music or sounds playing In your car, and the volume they are set at. Andrew found that playing music from his favorite video games helped calm him down. You can control the temperature of your car. You can set the rules for your car and can share them with your passengers. You can also bring your favorite sensory tools with you in the car. It's completely ok to keep a plush next to you in the passenger seat. It's completely ok to keep a fidget spinner in your cup holder. In the moments where the plan has to change, these things can help keep your anxiety managed and prevent a potential meltdown.
Secondly, remember that on most roads, you can quickly find a safe place to get off the road, put your car in park, and calm down. If your anxiety is spiking, take a break. Go through the exercises that work for you to calm your nerves.
Thirdly, you are in charge of your calendar. Don't schedule appointments in a really tight time span where you will be forced to rush from place to place. Give yourself ample time to get from point A to point B. Following your appointments, you may need time to decompress before you drive. Before your appointments start, you may also need to walk around or wait in the parking lot. Rushing is going to create more anxiety.
Fourth, prepare your car. Make sure you do simple things like schedule routine maintenance (we recommend at least every 5,000 miles). Having your oil changed, tires checked and brakes checked will prevent many of the car breakdown issues you could encounter. Stock your car with a roadside emergency kit so that you have things like jumper cables, tire patches and first aid. Even if an emergency never happens, you will be comforted by knowing that you are ready if it ever does.
Finally, we recommend planning ahead. Though traffic caused by car accidents is unpredictable, traffic patterns are predictable. Services like Waze, a GPS App for mobile phones, can help you trip plan and understand how long it will likely take to drive based on traffic patterns at different days and times. Even though you have the freedom to jump in the car and drive, you still want to put effort into thinking about your travel from place to place.
If you are worried about how your anxiety will affect your driving, consider taking part in our Webinar Series on Driving with ASD, or signing up for a free consulting session with one of our Transitions Coordinators. See you on the road!