Learning to drive as an autistic young person
Before starting driving lessons, I had a lot of worries about what it would be like to drive as an autistic person. I had heard a range of experiences online about other autistic people learning to drive, some of which had left me feeling anxious about driving. My main worries about driving surrounded having to take in a lot of information at once, process things quickly and make fast-paced decisions, all of which are impacted by my autism. I frequently experience sensory overload and I love to take my time processing information and making decisions; however, I found that these parts of being autistic did not impact my ability to drive. Instead, I believe that being autistic positively impacted my driving skills as I find it hard to shut out sensory information, leading to me taking everything in on the roads which in turn helped me to drive more safely.
Easing my worries about learning to drive
To help ease some of my worries about learning to drive, I ensured that I had a routine with my driving instructor and would always have the lessons at the same time each week. My instructor would also tell me what we would be doing during the lesson at the start of each lesson and would inform me of anything new we would be doing the next week. Doing this helped me to prepare myself mentally for new challenges rather than having any surprises.
My advice for other autistic people learning to drive would be to let your driving instructor know how you are feeling – if you are feeling anxious about trying something new in a lesson, communicate this and (in my experience) they can adapt the lesson to help you overcome these challenges and learn. Letting my instructor know when I felt confident about something or if I wanted to revisit something I had been taught in the past also helped me to make the most of my lessons, especially as my flat affect sometimes left my driving instructor unsure on how I was feeling!
Asking for reasonable adjustments
Whilst I did not inform my driving instructor about my autism and did not ask for reasonable adjustments, I believe that if you are comfortable talking to your instructor about these, you should go for it. There are many adjustments that an instructor can use in a lesson to help you, these can include: more frequent rest breaks, communicating information and instructions in shorter chunks that are easier to process, and using physical cues/markers to aid you in your driving. I’ve found that my depth perception and my ability to tell the speed of a moving object is a lot poorer than my non-autistic peers, and this was overcome in my driving lessons by my instructor placing physical markers on the interior of the car to show where things should line up. For example, one sticker on the dashboard would line up the middle of the car with where it should be positioned on the road, and another sticker on the bottom of the passenger side window would line up with where the car should be positioned when attempting a manoeuvre.
My advice for autistic people learning to drive
My advice for other autistic people learning to drive would be to have a routine in your lessons, to ask your instructor what you would be doing in each lesson to help you mentally prepare yourself, and to try to stay calm and unwind before and after a driving lesson! After all of my driving lessons, I needed some time to retreat into a calmer space and do something that relaxes me to help my brain catch up after a lesson.
About the author
My name is Hattie, I’m 18 and I’m from West Yorkshire. I’ve always loved photography and carry my camera with me everywhere I go. I have recently been teaching myself how to crochet and I have my own online business doing tarot readings where I have had sales from 48 different countries. I am currently studying A Level computer science, psychology, and geography, and I am looking to study criminal justice at university in September 2023.