Getting a permit and learning to drive is a ‘rite of passage’ that many teens anticipate for years. A driver’s license comes with independence and responsibility, which can be simultaneously exciting and intimidating. For teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the decision to learn to drive is met with additional challenges and considerations.
Driving is a complex task because drivers must integrate information from multiple inputs simultaneously, and navigate unpredictable and potentially challenging situations on the road. Knowing when your teen is ready to take this step can be difficult.
Patty Huang, M.D. and her research team at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania recently investigated factors associated with driving in teens with ASD. Parents of teens ages 15-18 with a diagnosis of ASD completed an online survey.
Teens with ASD were more likely to have a permit or license if any (or most) of the following were true:
1. Age: Teens at least 17 years old were more likely to be driving.
2. Classroom placement: Teens in a full-time regular classroom placement or college setting.
3. Job: Having a paid job outside of the home.
4. Life Skills: Independent use of public transportation.
5. Socio-Economic Status: Families with a reported annual income greater than $100,000.
6. IEP: Specific driving goals outlined in the IEP.
7. Parent Experience: Parent previously taught at least one teen to drive.
This is not an exhaustive list to determine driving readiness, but these factors may indicate if a teen would be successful in learning to drive. Many items on this list are skills that could be learned or accommodations that could be implemented in the school, home, or community setting. The independence, responsibility, and multitasking that are learned from having a job or navigating a public transportation system, for example, could also translate to success in acquiring a license.
Interestingly, Dr. Huang and colleagues also noted that many of the teens in this study did not have driving goals in their IEPs. Incorporating driving goals into transition planning could be another useful step towards driving readiness.
The results of this study provide useful information that may be helpful for parents of driving-age teenagers with ASD. Dr. Huang and colleagues reported that many of the teens in their study expressed interest in driving. Furthermore, driving teens were less likely to have received a citation or been in an accident in comparison to the general teen population. Overall, researchers suggest that teens with ASD who are more “rule-bound” and who have limits placed on their driving may have a more positive driving experience.
These scientists who are in the Center for Injury Research Prevention and the Center for Autism Research now have a pilot grant from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to look at the licensing rates, citations, and crash history of our patients with ASD living in NJ. This line of research is laying the foundation to create a tailored driving education program for teens with ASD.
Huang, P., Kao, T., Curry, A. E., & Durbin, D. R. (2012). Factors associated with driving in teens with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 33, 70-74.