Bridging the communication gap between high functioning autistics and neurotypicals.

Driving While Aspie…

Learning to drive was not easy for me. I took Driver’s Ed in 10th grade in 1984-85. I learned to drive in a city much bigger than Oklahoma City which was not laid out like graph paper (Charlotte, NC). Then, I spent most of my driving years in a city of 5.5 to 6 million people (Atlanta, GA). While taking Driver’s Ed, I found that I scared everyone in the car that rode with me but I didn’t know why. I failed the driving portion of the test the first time I took it. My mom was frustrated and so was I. I didn’t know the reason I failed then. To get me prepared to take the test again, friends of our family would ride with me and give me pointers on my driving. I remember scaring them as well. I would turn left abruptly too close to oncoming traffic. My tutor was white-knuckling it and screaming at the top of their lungs through the turn.

Years later, I was still being told that I was a scary driver. Just a year ago, my sister reminded me that I was always cussing and flipping off other drivers whenever she and I went somewhere together. Recently, my mom told me that I have always been a terrifying driver. She said I was horrible to ride with. Over the twenty years of our marriage, my wife has done most of the driving. Whenever I have had occasion to drive with my wife as passenger, she tends to experience my driving more as a ride in an amusement park, somewhat akin to a roller coaster or a tilt-a-whirl!

The examples above show, as an Aspie, my driving abilities have TERRIFIED those who have ridden with me. But the examples aren’t really the point of this article. The following are reasons why I drive like this.

  1. Aspies have trouble driving because we are not as aware of our surroundings on the roads. A disciplined awareness is necessary in driving to evaluate road conditions and traffic situations. Training Aspie student drivers to be more aware is simple. Have them watch movies of traffic situations or observe actual traffic at an intersection and then explain what they saw. Then ask them how they would deal with each situation. Keep training them until they seem comfortable and satisfactory results have been achieved.
  2. Aspies aren’t very physically coordinated so our motions in driving a car tend to be abrupt and jerky. Getting us to be graceful in our movements just requires an NT driver to observe us and to help us adjust by small degrees. Instead of yanking the steering wheel to make turns, we can be taught to turn the wheel using the hand-over-hand technique.
  3. The Aspie’s single-focused mind can cause overwhelm when required to multitask. Because of this hyperfocus, managing the multiple tasks involved in operating a car can be overwhelming for new driving students. Even at 45, I drive an automatic transmission because it requires less from me, mentally and physically, than a standard transmission. The key is allowing the Aspie to master each of the major functions of driving one at a time and then putting them together into a final product.
  4. There is a lot of fear built up in us because many of us Aspies have a perfectionist streak that will not allow us to make mistakes. To counter the perfectionism and fear of making mistakes, the Aspie driving student must be continually reminded that mistakes are perfectly acceptable. The Aspie driving student can be taken to a large empty parking lot, and with supervision, be allowed to drive at leisure until they are comfortable with the basic operation of the vehicle. Strong emphasis needs to be placed on creating a ‘safety net’ which consists of getting across to the Aspie driving student that ‘mistakes are perfectly acceptable’ and that ‘whatever happens is okay’. Once the ‘safety net’ is in place, the above three factors can be addressed starting with awareness.
  5. Aspies require more time to learn something, especially when that task requires physical/mental multitasking. The more complex a task is, the more our brains analyze it to comprehend the information. This analytical process requires more time than is usually given for mastering something. By breaking down the process into smaller tasks, the Aspie student can easily master each piece of the project.

Even though driving is a complex task for Aspies, following the above guidelines can make the process of learning less stressful and easier to manage.



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