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Driving & Transportation with Autism Spectrum Disorder

The Next Street Driving School is uniquely positioned to serve the autism community with a robust driver training program including on-staff occupational therapists trained to medically assess drivers. In collaboration with The Next Step Driving School, we can help would-be drivers on the autism spectrum navigate their road to independence -- with a driver’s license!

New driving students must be at least 16 years old. For many on the Autism Spectrum, motivation for driving happens in their 20’s. It’s never too late to become more independent!

  • Stimuli can be difficult. Loud sounds such as sirens or screeching brakes, the feeling of the seatbelt against your skin, and even the radio, can cause discomfort and make driving challenging.
  • There are many rules. Although individuals with Autism usually prefer to follow rules and a routine, anyone who has traveled in a car understands that many other drivers do not follow the rules.
  • Physical demands and coordination are a big part of driving. It’s important to have or develop response and coordination skills.

Everyone with an Autism is unique. Try answering the following questions, which may be helpful for you or your child:

  1. How flexible is the potential driver when he/she encounter changes?
  2. Is the potential driver able to adapt quickly to changes, or do sudden deviations from expectations cause distress?
  3. Does the potential driver have the motor skills needed to safely operate vehicle controls?
  4. Is the potential driver able to handle distractions, such as billboards and radio noise, and make quick, appropriate and safe decisions?
  5. Does the potential driver have sensory processing issues that would result in anxiety when faced with lots of noise or shiny moving objects?
  6. Is the potential driver able to maintain focus on a task for a long period of time, or will they get quickly distracted and forget about the car he/she is driving?
  7. Can the potential driver maintain focus while being aware of surroundings?
  8. Can the potential driving maintain enough awareness to identify potential obstacles and plan how to react to them?

The Next Street program for Driving with Autism includes a clinical evaluation by a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist, who will assess you or your child to determine readiness to drive and develop a plan.

  • Begin learning! Ask the potential driver to sit in the front passenger seat while an experienced driver verbalizes directions. This is a fun way to learn the roads, traffic control devices and lane markings. You can make a game of it!
  • Get started! Break the process of starting the car into small steps. For example, begin with selecting the correct key, then put it into the ignition, then turn it to the right until the engine turns over, and then let go of the key.
  • Steer in the right direction. Learn about GPS and other navigation options , but be careful of sensory overload or using a smart phone due to possible distractions such as notifications and text messages.
  • Call others out!  Point out drivers that do not follow the rules of the road. Although we would like to believe everyone is a good driver, we must be realistic in what a new driver will encounter on the roads. Some people do not follow the rules, which can lead to frustration or even rage. Talk through the feelings and identify calming strategies.
  • Be prepared for… just about anything.  Sometimes things do not go as planned. It’s a driver’s reaction that is important. For example, if you miss a turn, keep going until you find a safe place to turn around or let your navigation re-route you. Drivers should think about what he/she would do if there is an accident, flat tire, traffic, animal strike, etc.

You tried. An important step towards independence was taken. Learning traffic signs, directions and the rules of the road is useful for everyone. The motivation to drive is the most important piece, and nobody can take that away from you.. Besides, there are other means of transportation: buses, subways, trains, and ride-sharing, such as Uber and Lyft.

We believe driving and transportation is an important factor to becoming an independent person. Our mission at Planning Across the Spectrum is to help everyone live as independently and financially free as possible. The ability to get a job, see friends, and have the security of getting around is invaluable. We want to be there with you and your family from your first car, to your last. During this time, you may also need help with:

  1. College Planning – Finding the right college and taking advantage of all financial opportunities
  2. Guardianship – Reviewing options for guardianship and conservatorship and recommending the best choice for the individual
  3. Government Benefits – Navigating the maze of government benefits -- not just for today, but for the future
  4. Insurance – Making sure an individual or family has appropriate disability and life insurance coverage, and, if needed, car insurance
  5. Life Coaching – Not limited to financial and money management, our coach will help you be your best self and live your best life
  6. Saving and Investing – ABLE accounts, retirement, and investments for the entire family
  7. Legal Options – Referrals to a national network of attorneys for establishing a Special Needs Trusts and more

Driving is a milestone step toward independence. Life is a journey and we want to be your (hopefully not annoying) backseat driver!