Specialized driving instructors say the path to licensing for teens with autism may be longer, but doable with proper instructions and other supports

A collaborative study by the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) and the Center for Autism Research (CAR) at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) identified clear strengths and a series of specific challenges that adolescents with autism face when learn to drive. The results were recently published by the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.

Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 17 specialist driver instructors who had received training as an occupational therapist, driver rehabilitation specialist or licensed driver instructor and who had completed additional training related to driver education. people with autism. Their ideas underscore the importance of providing specialized and structured education where skills are taught one at a time, allowing students to develop mastery before adding new skills. These approaches help young drivers with autism develop driving skills over time, supported by many caregiver-supervised practices.

Instructors described specific driving challenges for young drivers with autism, including being overly subject to rules, being easily distracted, and having difficulty integrating what other drivers are doing with their own hand-eye-foot coordination required to drive. The instructors believed that many of these challenges could be overcome with careful skill-building instruction over an extended period of time.

Strengths observed in young autistic drivers included strict adherence to the highway code, paying close attention to their driving environment and limiting risk-taking. Instructors believe that these obvious strengths help students become competent drivers.

“Through our interviews with specialist driving instructors who have worked specifically with young autistic drivers, we learned teaching strategies that were perceived to be effective and recommendations to improve the process of learning to drive for these adolescents and young people. adults, “said Rachel K. Myers, PhD, lead study author and researcher at CIRP. “Rigorous and individualized training is needed for their driving instruction. Further research is needed to standardize best practices for teaching adolescent drivers with autism.”

In addition to breaking down the driving tasks into separate learning objectives, the instructors used a variety of strategies to develop driving skills, including having the teens sit in the passenger seat and describe what is doing. the driver, and practice repeatedly on the same driving routes to reduce anxiety.

Instructors also stressed that young drivers with autism should be prepared for experiences they may encounter outside of the vehicle, such as changing a tire or interacting with law enforcement. After getting licensed, some instructors may recommend that teens with autism drive only under supervision or with restrictions, such as traveling only on familiar routes.

“According to specialist driving instructors we interviewed, adolescents with autism who had limited experience with other modes of transportation or vehicle use, such as cycling, before learning to drive had a harder time learning to drive. control the vehicle, ”said Benjamin E. Yerys, PhD, study author and clinical psychologist at CAR. “This difficulty could contribute to challenges in controlling speed, maintaining position in the lane and handling oncoming traffic. Caregivers should find ways to promote these life skills and hand-eye-foot coordination before beginning the process of learning to drive.

Recent research conducted at CHOP has found that newly licensed young drivers with autism have lower crash rates than their non-autistic peers. Additionally, young autistic drivers are much less likely to have their license suspended or receive a traffic violation than their non-autistic peers.

Driving is an important part of leading an independent life and is an option for ensuring safe mobility for adolescents and young adults with autism. Resources for families to help with the transition to adulthood are available at TeenDriverSource.org and CAR Autism Roadmap (https://www.carautismroadmap.org/getting-around-its-a-matter-of-independence/ ).

This work was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health.

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Material provided by Philadelphia Children’s Hospital. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.

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