My teenage son with Asperger's syndrome has decided he wants to take drivers education and get his driver's license. We are pleased that he is taking the initiative on this big step, but wonder if there are some guidelines we should be using to determine how to handle this major milestone.
Dear Teen's Mom:
It's a major transition when our teens learn to drive. Considerations include: Has the teen shown an ability to follow rules? Has he been reasonably reliable on letting you know where he is going, with whom, and calling if he is late? Does he follow through reasonably well with daily responsibilities (you don't want to have to drive 10 miles to pick him up because he forgot to put gas in the car)? Does he have any difficulties with sense or time or impulsive spending that need to be considered? Is he excessively influenced by peers who might take advantage of him?
There are some other considerations for your teen with ASD. Many people with ASD have some difficulty with body awareness, motor planning, and attention. All of these are important for driving. Many people with ASD drive successfully, but some find it requires too much multi-tasking. If you have concerns, an assessment by an occupational therapist familiar with these issues might be helpful. Courage Center has a program that specializes in driving assessments.
A few people with ASD struggle with driving because not all drivers follow rules exactly. If your son is excessively exact in rule following, preparing him for what to expect will help. Others with ASD have trouble following rules they think don't make sense; if this is a problem for your son you may want to think about how to help him understand both the purpose of traffic laws and the consequence of disobeying even ones that he doesn't think make sense.
Finally, it's important to discuss with your teen your family's rules about car usage, privileges and responsibilities, and to make sure he agrees to them. Common rules for new drivers such as limitations on when and with whom he can drive should be discussed as well as who is responsible for buying gas, paying for insurance, etc. The only way that this may differ from a discussion with a neurotypical teen is that you may need to be a bit more precise in your definitions.
Finally, remember that many people with ASD tend to be perfectionists and get discouraged easily when a task is difficult for them. Be sure to reassure your son that learning to drive will take practice and he will inevitably make some mistakes.
Dr. Barbara Luskin, PhD, LP
Autism Society of Minnesota