For individuals with autism spectrum disorder, getting a driver’s license can be an important milestone and provide independence, opening up new opportunities. However, it can also present unique challenges and considerations.
There are resources for overcoming the challenges of driving with autism. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia says that “two-thirds of 15- to 18-year-old autistic adolescents without intellectual disability are currently driving or planning to drive, and 1 in 3 autistic individuals without intellectual disability get licensed by age 21.”
Autism Speaks defines autism as “a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication.” While autism can vary in severity and presentation, many individuals with autism have difficulty with sensory processing, executive functioning, and social skills. These factors can impact their ability to navigate complex traffic situations.
If you or someone you know with autism is considering driving, here are some important things to keep in mind:
- Talk with your doctor. Before pursuing a driver’s license, it’s important to be evaluated by a healthcare professional who specializes in autism. They can assess the individual’s sensory processing, cognitive abilities, motor skills, and social communication to determine whether driving is viable.
- Seek specialized training. Driving with autism may require specialized training to help individuals learn important skills such as spatial awareness, sensory integration, and communication with other drivers. Consider enrolling in a driving program that specializes in teaching individuals with autism. You may also want to consult an occupational therapist to assist with developing skills needed while driving.
- Manage sensory input. Sensory processing can be a challenge for individuals with autism, especially while driving. Consider using tinted windows or other accommodations to reduce sensory input while driving.
- Get a Developmental Disability Disclosure Card. Individuals with autism may have difficulty communicating with law enforcement officers during a traffic stop. Consider getting a Developmental Disability Disclosure Card from the Maryland Department of Transportation, Motor Vehicle Administration. This blue card includes space for details about your disability, guiding law enforcement in providing effective communication during a traffic stop.
Here are some additional resources:
- Maryland State Department of Education, Division of Rehabilitation Services: Driver & Vehicle Services
- Pathfinders for Autism: Navigating the MVA for State IDs, Driver’s Licenses, and Other Services
- Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Research Institute: Learning to Drive with Autism
- The Autism Café: Driving and Autism
- Healthline: Can Autistic People Drive?