Learning to drive is often associated with independence, and it can be both an exciting and anxiety-provoking time in your life. If you or your child has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you may be especially cautious about the responsibility it takes to drive due to differences in executive functioning.

“It is a misconception that people with disabilities can’t drive. If you or your teen have the right training and preparation, you can drive a vehicle.”

Here, we break down what the latest research says about driving and how to gauge readiness for successful training.

Yes, it’s legal for autistic people to drive. Autistic individuals must pass the same requirements needed to obtain a driver’s license in their state as those who are not on the spectrum.

In some cases, it may take longer for autistic individuals to obtain a driver’s license, with one study indicating an average of 2 years in autistic adolescents. But driving is achievable with proper training and preparation, along with persistence and patience.

There are no legal restrictions that may prevent an autistic person from obtaining a driver’s license. But there are certain challenges and safety aspects to consider, including reduced motor skills and difficulties with multitasking.

Research suggests that drivers who are autistic may experience the following difficulties:

On the flip side, research also shows that autistic drivers have certain strengths that other drivers may not possess. These include:

  • desire to follow driving rules
  • obeying traffic rules
  • Like speeding, limited risk-taking.
  • Paying closer attention to their driving environment.
  • Being able to remember details for a long time.

Additionally, research suggests that young autistic individuals are less likely to receive traffic tickets and have their licenses suspended than other new drivers. Also, crash risks are similar across new drivers overall.

While driving is an important life skill that can also help support travel for schooling, work, and socialization, your autistic teen should first indicate an interest in driving before you pursue formal lessons. Such engagement can help them retain an interest in their lessons, so they’ll want to keep practicing.

“It is never too early to talk with your child’s doctor about driving. If your doctor feels you need more support, you can get related therapies before your child is old enough to drive.”

Your teen is able to complete other self-care tasks on their own. This may include chores and schoolwork.

Questions for your ASD team about driving

“Discuss the following with your teen’s doctor and other members of the team.”

  • How will I know if my teen is ready to learn how to drive?
  • Can you recommend any therapies that can help with coordination?
  • There are communication issues that may affect driving.
  • “Is there any challenges that could affect my child’s driving?”
  • What are the risks of learning to drive? We should learn bike riding first.
  • Is there a driving school or driving rehabilitation specialist you can recommend?

If you’re looking for specialized training or specific therapies that may help an autistic person learn how to drive, consider the following options:

Occupational therapy (OT)

OT is used in the past to help with daily life skills, fine and gross motor skills, social skills, and other important aspects of your daily routine. It could help improve your ability to drive a car.

“If you are working with an occupational therapist, you should talk to them about your goals for driving so they can help you. If you don’t currently attend OT, you should ask your doctor for a referral.”

Driving schools and instructors

“Some public schools offer driving classes for teens, but additional training from an outside driving school can help. If you’re looking for a driving school, ask if they have licensed instructors who have taught drivers with special needs.”

If you or an autistic loved one is learning how to drive, consider the following tips to help you succeed:

  • Practice as much as possible.
  • Break each skill down into smaller parts.
  • Repetition is used for each driving lesson.
  • Consider using written, verbal, or visual script before each drive to help your learner remember the steps.
  • Help your new driver practice driving in different weather and at night.
  • Prepare your young driver for unexpected scenarios, like how to pull over a vehicle safely due to accidents, tire changes, or interactions with police officers.

“People with a learning disability can drive a car and get their driver’s licenses.”

“Some challenges with executive functioning and communication can affect some people learning to drive, but they have strengths that their peers don’t have.”

If you are thinking about learning how to drive, talk to your team. In addition to formal driving schools, ASD professionals can also provide therapies that can help prepare you for driving safety and success.