Contribution from freelance writer Lucy Wyndham
Every once in a while, the Leka Team is happy to welcome external contributors and share their food for thoughts. This post has been written by Lucy Wyndham whose husband is on the spectrum.

unsplash-logoNicolai Berntsen

Did you know that a third of all teens with autism earn a driver’s license? This is great news considering that those on the autism spectrum need to live as independently as possible and for many, this means learning to drive. Those with ASD face many obstacles to full participation in society, which is why from the earliest years, parents of children on the spectrum take important steps to boost social interaction through smart toys such as Leka, which sparks curiosity, enjoyment, and encourages social interactions with parents, siblings and the like. As children approach young adulthood, continued efforts are necessary. Facilitating driving can increase the capacity of youths to contribute to their communities and expand their social activities. If your child is keen to learn this skill, these are a few ways you can show support.

Open Communication with Driving Instructors

It is important for your child to find a teacher with whom they are comfortable enough to discuss any difficulties they may have with driving. For instance, the glare of the sun or the sound of traffic may pose a challenge for those who might be over-sensitive, while those who are under-sensitive may find that objects appear darker or that their peripheral vision is sharper than their central vision. There are online videos about people with autism who are learning to drive, which can help your child’s instructor be more aware of how to communicate with young learners.

The Importance of Physical Cues

Drivers on the spectrum can sometimes find it hard to ascertain the velocity at which they are going or the distance of objects. Physical cues can help; for instance, drivers may be advised to check the speedometer regularly. As soon as they know the different speed limits of, say, built-up areas vs highways, they should have no difficulty with keeping to the limits.

Adapting Driving to a Child’s Needs

In one study by researchers at Drexel University, it was found that drivers with autism generally obtain their licenses later, drive less frequently, and put more restrictions on their driving. Thus, your child may feel more comfortably taking a particular route, or driving at a particular time of the day, when less distraction can affect driving skills. They should have the freedom to do so, taking public transport or relying on family during times when they would not feel confident taking the wheel.

Rule Books, Maps, and Viewing Material

If your child is a reflective learner, they will enjoy having material to peruse prior to attending driving school. Useful material can include videos on specific skills such as how to merge onto a busy road, how to ascertain distance when parking, or how to negotiate a roundabout. Parents can also help by giving their child a map and driving along a particular route, asking their child to navigate. This can also work the other way around once your child has a learner’s permit. Use easy, quiet roads in the neighborhood for practice, slowly heading for more populated areas as your child’s confidence grows.

Pacing Driving Lessons

Children should see driving lessons as a long-term activity that doesn’t involved forced learning of a specific number of skills in a set time frame. Studies show that those on the spectrum take around nine months longer to progress from a learner’s permit to an intermediate license, which is no major obstacle in the long-term. Stress can be reduced by breaking down information into smaller parts. For instance, you or the driving instructor may spend a whole lesson on just one skill; for instance, how to take an exit from a roundabout. Every achievement is a cause for celebration and as is the case with all positive learning environment, pressure to succeed should be completely absent.

Teens with autism have a high rate of success once they obtain their learner’s permit, with research indicating that families in America are doing a good job at assessing whether their children are okay to drive prior to obtaining a permit. Obtaining a permit and license are huge achievements that result from commitment, hard work, and a desire for independence. Parents who think their child is ready to start could consider seeing an occupation therapist who specializes in driving to obtain useful advice. Finding the right instructor is also key, as is catering the experience as much as possible to each child’s individual needs. Above all, keep it as low-stress for yourself as it is for them, and embrace the joy of driving and the freedom this much loved activity brings.