Driving and Asperger’s

It’s October, the scariest month of the year! It seems fitting the next post in the “Scary Parenting Talks” series is about driving. Yes, I know, many of you can’t wait to teach your kids to drive. But I know there are many out there who are dreading it! Much of what’s in this post about driving can apply to any. Still, Asperger’s and autism have a few extras to consider.

Driving and Asperger’s is part of the “Scary Parenting Talks” series. Check back weekly for new topics!

First things first: Having Asperger’s does not necessarily preclude someone from driving.

Let’s get talking! Let’s talk about the most basic rule of all.

  1. Know the rules and regulations wherever your teen/young adult will be driving

Wherever you live there are driving regulations. These vary from country to country and state to state. Before you even begin to talk with your teen (or young adult – we’ll say “teen” for now as it’s shorter) about driving, understand what the current rules are. Where I live, the rules have changed several times in the past handful of years, alone! In other words, don’t assume that the rules you learned to drive by are the same as they are today. Also, do not assume just because your teen is old enough to drive that they are eligible to do so.

This brings us to the most crucial aspect of this entire Scary Parenting Talk.

Do not assume just because your teen is old enough to drive that they are eligible to do so.

  1. Age aside, are they ready for this responsibility?

You must (can’t emphasize this enough) MUST take time to understand if learning to drive is something they can pursue now, will need to put off until later – or put off altogether. The truth is you may need to talk with your teen’s therapist and/or doctor to suss that part out.

Too many parents allow their children to drive when they are legally old enough but not psychologically ready for it. This is dangerous. Do not be one of those parents.

Asperger’s and autism often bring with them added concerns. Motor skill issues and processing time may be of concern as quick reaction time is needed in order to drive. There are also emotional regulation issues to consider. How your teen reacts in frustrating and upsetting situations is likely to spill over to driving. How aware are they of their surroundings? They need to be able to understand where the car is in relation to the road, other vehicles and anything else that comes along…

Of course, we could talk about various aspects ad nauseum, but I think you understand what we’re looking for here. Driving is very sensory and takes a lot of both sensory and mental processing power to do effectively. When in doubt, talk to someone who knows your teen well and who will give you an honest, objective opinion. Also, there may be rules where you live that determine whether or not they meet the criteria for driving. Do take time to research and understand if they qualify for learning how to drive.

Assuming your teen meets everything in Steps 1&2, there is more to consider.

Scary Driver

  1. Set some ground rules

After you understand if permits are needed, how they are acquired, if your teen meets eligibility requirements, etc., prepare your teen for the application process. Once driving permit is in hand (assuming those are needed where you live), it’s time to go over a few ground rules.

Don’t go overboard but do set a few rules up. One is to be clear who is legally able to drive with your teen (as well as who you approve of) while your teen is learning behind the wheel. If there is paperwork to take care of, such as driving logs (required in my state), be clear about who will be responsible for keeping them up to date.

Be clear about what your teen needs to do before they are ready to go for the driver’s license, itself. Again, just because they reach so many driving hours and are the right age doesn’t mean they are ready to go for a license. This is where parenting gets hard. If your teen is struggling with driving but presses you to get a license, you will need to be firm but kind. If this is the case, you will need to tell them they need more time behind the wheel (or even a break from driving) until they truly are ready. This is both for their safety as well as others on the roads around them. Be realistic. Be objective. Be smart.

Driving going swimmingly? (Oh, wait. Bad metaphor…) Great! Time to finish up our talk.

  1. Set new ground rules but don’t hold the reigns too tightly

Once it’s time to go for that final test, be there for them. This can be nerve wracking for anyone! Make the choice to encourage your teen during this process. Personally, I was a nervous wreck! When all was said and done, she did fine. She got her license when she was ready.

Make the choice to encourage your teen during this process.

With license in hand, it is important to articulate with them any boundaries you set. Are they allowed to drive with other teens (or young adults, etc.) in the car? Are there places they should not be driving right now? Curfews? What about filling up the tank? Are you supplying gas for the car or do you expect them to?

Letting your teen know this before you hand them the keys simply makes sense.

As parents, our goal is to allow our children to become as independent, self-reliant as they can. This often includes driving. For parents on the Autism Spectrum, it’s a bit trickier. It can be a heckuva lot more emotional! Do what’s right for your family, at the right time for them. And don’t allow yourself to compare their driving timeline with anyone else.

I chose the image of the owl watching the bird fly as it reminded me how we owe it to our children to teach them to fly, to get from Point A to Point B all on their own. Trust your instincts, look at the bigger picture and you and your family will make the right decision when it comes to teaching your Aspie how to drive.

~ Julie

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