8 Tips for Drivers with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Ever since I got my driver’s license last October, I traveled to a lot of places. I started just in nearby areas as a start and built my way up. Nowadays, I go on some highways I like, which allows me to keep doing the things I love, which is being connected to the community. For this, I want to give 10 tips for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who drive, among with regular drivers as well. While driving gets easier, the beginning steps can be overwhelming. I am here to make it somewhat easier for you.
- Give Yourself Time to be Ready for Driving: My instructor told me once that when one drives, the individual must be 100% ready to drive. It makes sense because you are basically using your energy to focus on the wheel and observing all the interactions on the roads. If you feel you do not have energy, it may not be the best idea to go off and drive. Sometimes you may not be 100%. You might feel tired some days or have a headache on a random day. It is also important to be used to different energy levels while driving, so you can be adaptive on the road and be responsible.
- Preset Your Car Every Time Before You Start the Day: Before you even start driving, always preset your car. Walk around the car to check for any leaks. Check your tires to make sure they have enough air. You can buy a measuring device for tires and it is generally easy to check the gauge. Check your lights as well because if one is not on, you must find a replacement soon as you can. Inside your car, you can preset your windows, music, time, GPS of choice, and so on. The reason why this is important is because it allows you to drive without distractions inside of your car. If you play around with the GPS and/or music, there is a risk of being distracted.
- Take Care of the Sensory Aspects: This may not be an issue for some drivers with ASD, but it can be for some. Lighting, feeling of objects, and even movements of the roads can be noticeable for someone with sensory processing issues. If you know that you are not a fan of lights, have a pair of sunglasses to help block out the brightness. Have a specific item in your car that help address any potential sensory aspect. If there is something upsetting and you need a reason to calm down, stop somewhere like a gas station and use your comfort item to regroup. Personally, I usually play a lot of video game music in my drives, so I carry CDs in my car.
- GPS: To counter the idea of loss of direction during driving, using a GPS device would work wonders. You can use your phone as one, but it must stay at one place and it is a bad idea to toy with it while driving. What I do is attach a magnet on my phone, which attaches to another magnet near the middle dash area of the car. That way, I can look at it once, and I still have my eyes on the road. Another device you could use is a TomTom, which is a sole GPS device. Having one around is handy, especially if there is a chance of your phone battery dying. Either way, the more times you go on a route, you are more likely to remember it. I find myself using a GPS, and then later, I can drive to a route without using it.
- Switching Up Routes: Having that routine is never a bad thing. I have road routines as well, but I learned that it is perfectly okay to switch up your routes every now and them. Sometimes, some roads have construction and depending how they set it up, they may have closed some roads as a result. Basically, you must use a different route to get somewhere. It is annoying sometimes, but it does have its surprises. I ended up finding some new roads that are more convenient for my future drives. Plus, it is always good to discover new roads.
- Left Turns: These type of turns can be very dangerous, especially when you do not have a green arrow. It is one of the big reasons why new drivers fail the road test. You must judge the right moment to turn, while using everything you have learned for said turn. Then, you have towns or cities that dislike or lack green arrows. Hartford, as an example, does not have convenient green arrows at certain busy intersections and you must judge the right moment. That can be scary, and I experienced this a couple of times. As you plan out your routes, make full use of traffic lights with green arrows, as they are your best friends. In Hartford, I go further near Saint Francis Hospital to get a consistent green arrow to get over to West Hartford. If you are at an intersection with no arrow, take your time and judge when there are no cars driving through the opposite side.
- Urban Driving: Cities can be more complex to drive around. Even my own dad admits this at times, and he drives a truck around for his job. This environment is one where you must be 100% alert all the way though, because you will have people crossing the street, questionable drivers, buses picking people up, and other traffic pitfalls. I drove to Hartford on and off due to commitments. The best first step for urban driving is picking a lot close to the road that you are familiar with. I use a parking lot near The Bushnell for my Hartford visits and because I am familiar with the roads after the Capitol, I can get out of Hartford more easily. Keep in mind, I am still learning more about this aspect, the more I decide to go to an urban area. Basically, take baby steps for these types of settings.
- Highways: This can be tricky. While it has less rules, it can have risks to it. You have probably seen reports of accidents on the news while drivers were on major highways in your area. It can be intense at times, but the steps to get started with highway driving are basic. The first time involves being used to two-lane roads and the concept of lane changing. A lot of roads in areas have these and they are important, mainly to get used to the idea of having other drivers pass you. Then, you work on lane changing and getting used to using your mirrors to make a good lane change. This is important because there are highways that are just two lanes with a speed limit at 65 or 70 mph. That type of highway was perfect for me, because I was already used to two-lanes roads. I used Route 8 up in Winsted to become familiar with the highway speeds. It works because it has a road that merges into a highway, so I do not have to do an entrance ramp right away. Speaking of which, after you get used to the speed, the next step is to practice entrance ramps. While scary, it does have some rules to help. Usually, most drivers slow down when a driver is merging on the highway. Not all, but generally. The most important thing is using your mirrors to merge and to always use them to be aware of other drivers’ behaviors. I could go all day on highway driving, but the last thing I will say is – if a car in front of you is slow, you can do a lane change. You must be at the highway speed at all times, unless an accident has occurred or there is a slowdown, and it often becomes a parking lot until you exit.
One final note to say for any driver: forgive yourself. This is more for the people who are hard on themselves like I can be at times. Driving can be intense and accidently making one mistake can be scary. I know if I make a mistake or something, I feel bad about myself and beat myself up with that thinking. No matter how unpleasant, remind yourself how far you came. You are a good person and I know that you will bounce back and do the right thing. Do not give up.