One of the biggest challenges surrounding driving with Autism Spectrum Disorder is the stimulus that you can encounter as a driver. While it can seem like a lot, it can also be manageable, especially if you have a plan. I'll highlight some quick tips here, but recommend taking our webinar series if you are interested in a deeper dive into stimulus behind the wheel. There are 3 main senses we will focus on: touch, sight and sound.
For some drivers with ASD, the seat belt is the first complication. It can feel restrictive, and the feeling of the belt on your body can feel like too much. A seat belt isn't an option, it is a requirement; so we will need to overcome this sensory issue. Begin by taking small steps. Sit in the stationary car with just the seat belt on. Get used to the feeling of it. We'll address music later, but it's a good idea to put on your favorite soothing sounds at a manageable volume while you do this. Also, check out Amazon to find some great soft fabric products that slide over the seat belt to eliminate the firm elastic fabric that comes standard in cars. The other main "touch" issue is the temperature of the car. Many of our students don't realize that you have complete control over the temperature of your car. We recommend addressing the temperature before you begin driving. Figure out the temperature that is most comfortable for you and also where you want the air to be blowing. For the driving coaches, be sure to spend time reviewing what each of the ventilation settings can do, especially the defroster settings.
Next, let's talk about sounds. Your car's stereo is a perfect example of a controllable stimulus because you can establish a comfortable environment in your car. by adjusting the station, the volume and various attributes of sound. Remember, as the driver, you get to control the music and the volume that you listen to it. We recommend building a playlist in your favorite music app, that has 3-4 hours of music that you love. You can start the playlist any time you start a journey and let it be a calming source while you drive.
I'll pause here to point out a hopefully obvious, but important point to reiterate: YOU CANNOT USE YOUR MOBILE DEVICE WHILE DRIVING! Set all of your ringers and notifications to silent, and consider using an App to auto reply to text messages indicating that you are driving. If you are expecting important calls or messages, it is best to schedule driving around those calls so that you can maintain complete focus in your car. Even though the law allows for handsfree devices in many states, we recommend that you eliminate ANY possible distractions, especially in your first year behind the wheel. We have a saying: park your phone, drive your car. If you use your phone for your music or GPS, set it up before you put the car in drive and then don't look at your phone again until you have safely parked.
Finally, we'll touch on vision. The biggest complaint we hear from our students are headlights at night, especially bright lights. Some of our students have utilized light dimming glasses while they drive. For all of our students, we teach never to look into the headlights but to find a spot on the far right side of the road to focus the eyes. This will keep your attention on the road while getting your eyes away from the bright lights. You never want to look down or close your eyes, so you will need to come up with strategies on how to handle headlights. For the coaches, you MUST work with your student at night. Go on slow backroads after dark and gauge how your student does with approaching headlights.
Ok, that's a little intro into stimulus. Again, I recommend our Webinar series to learn more. Drive safely!