For autistic teens and young adults, the decision to pursue a driver’s license is a milestone that other families might take for granted as a natural rite of passage. We rely on transportation to get to work or school, to shop, to see the doctor, and to participate in community and social events. If driving is not the best option for a teen, other options must be found to give autistic individuals access to community activities, employment, and social relationships.
According to research conducted at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), 2 in 3 autistic adolescents without intellectual disability are interested in driving, but only 1 in 3 autistic individuals without intellectual disability get licensed by age 21.
Autism can affect decision-making, information processing, and attention to varying degrees, as well as social cognition, communication, motor coordination, and the ability to control emotions.
Many of these capabilities come into play with young autistic drivers. Some, such as getting lost in the details of the road or having difficulty recognizing cues of other drivers, may raise the risk for unsafe driving behaviors. Others, such as a vigilance to follow the rules of the road, may promote safer driving behaviors.
One study suggests autistic males may have slower hazard detection times and difficulties recognizing hazards, including pedestrians, than non-autistic males. Another study conducted at CHOP found newly licensed young autistic drivers have a similar crash risk but are much less likely to have their license suspended or to receive a traffic violation than their non-autistic peers.
DETERMINING READINESS TO DRIVE
Though states set an age when a person may obtain a driver’s license, there is no magic age when one is “ready” to drive. It is important to make a decision that is right for you and your family. CHOP experts recommend families follow these steps to determine readiness to drive:
- Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider to address any concerns, such as communication or cognition issues
- Consider seeking the advice of a driving rehabilitation specialist or occupational therapist who has training in working with individuals with neurodevelopmental differences
- Add goals about driving to your child’s individualized education plan (IEP) and follow up with school personnel
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FROM CHOP
Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP: Learn about autism and driving research and resources from this Center of Emphasis at the CHOP Research Institute.
TeenDrivingPlan Practice Guide: This online resource offers practice driving lessons from CHOP experts, including 54 short videos and tips to create the right learning environment.
Center for Autism Research at CHOP: Beyond this Roadmap, access helpful information and guidance as your child transitions to adulthood from CHOP experts.
OTHER ADDITIONAL RESOURCES