Can Aspies learn to drive?
Have you ever wondered whether people with Autism can legally learn to drive? In this post I’m going to discuss the legal requirements here in the U.K., advantages and disadvantages of driving with ASD and share some of my own experiences.
The Legal Stuff
So first of all, there is nothing legally that says outright that people with Autism can or cannot drive. The reason behind this is that autism is a spectrum condition and each person with ASD will have unique strengths and weaknesses. However, you must inform the DVLA if your disability affects your ability to drive safely.
There are many skills required in driving including:
-attention and concentration
-insight and understanding
This is only a selection of the skills a person must have in order to be able to drive safely.
As we can see already from the handful of skills I’ve chosen, there may be some difficulties for those on the spectrum. If loud noises causes problems because of sensory overload then you have to think about whether you would be safe on the road. How would you react if an ambulance went past with its sirens on? Likewise if bright lights cause pain, how would you cope if you encountered a car at night with its full beams on?
If you don’t suffer from sensory overload but struggle to have insight into others actions and understanding then driving may also be difficult. Whilst you may think that there are rules to follow and so you won’t need insight into other drivers intentions, this is not the case.
Not every driver sticks to the rules!
You will need to be able to figure out the intentions of others – even if they aren’t driving in the way you expect. Depending on how difficult you find this to do, may determine whether or not you are able to drive.
Advantages and Disadvantages
However there may be some advantages to having Autism when driving. I have the ability to hyperfocus, as do many autistics and this can be particularly useful when completing long journeys.
I also notice tiny details such as a car further up slowing down suddenly which allows me to brake earlier than if I’d waited for the car in front to brake first. This can help avoid accidents as I discovered when I noticed a car 4 cars ahead of me brake unexpectedly. I slammed on the brakes and managed to avoid a pile up whilst others didn’t.
There can be some disadvantages though. I do find ambulance sirens painful as they pass and unexpected diversions can also cause a lot of stress and anxiety until I find my way back to my original route. Whilst I wouldn’t say these affect my safety or overall ability to drive, I do notice them more than perhaps other drivers do.
My experiences on the road
One other time I particularly struggled was when I drove up a road to where there had been an earlier accident. The road was closed in one direction, but not the direction I was going in. However I couldn’t cross the junction to get to the road I wanted to. I remember just freezing when I got to the end of the road.
A police officer was pointing to me to go in the opposite direction I needed to and I was in blind panic as to what to do.
I became very upset as I couldn’t think how to get home if I couldn’t go down that road. In the end I followed his instructions and decided to find a place further up I could pull over and compose myself.
After pulling over, I realised I could do a U-turn at the next junction up and then go along the road I wanted to as normal.
It was just THAT junction I couldn’t turn at.
Not the next one.
However due to my ASD I couldn’t think around the problem in that moment.I had to calm myself and think about it, whilst other drivers would probably have realised this straight away.
In many ways I’m lucky. I never had to think about whether aspies can learn to drive as I didn’t know I was an aspie until I was 29, by which point I had been driving for 10 years! However I have been asked if I’m allowed to drive and thought it was worth discussing here.
More information on whether aspies can learn to drive can be found here at the National Autistic Society.
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