Teaching the Person With
Autism HOW to DRIVE
Harrington M.A. C.C.C. SLP
While driving on my
way to an appointment I was cut in front of three times. I steered clear
of a car that was edging over my way to avoid an accident. I saw a near
miss when a car ran a stop sign. I pulled over for a siren but cars passed
me who didn't bother to follow that law and I had cars honk at me for
going the posted speed limit in a school zone. Were all of those drivers
autistic? I'm sure not. Were any of those drivers autistic? I certainly
doubt it. What those drivers did not do involved language: predicting,
sequencing, following directions, problem solving, and turn taking.
So can a high functioning/Aspergers
person with autism learn how to drive a car? Can they follow the rules
of the road? Can they learn the language that is necessary in order to
lead safe, responsible, independent lives? Can a speech-language pathologist
assist the person with autism in their pursuit of driving? The answers
to all of the above are YES!
Any professional involved
in teaching driving skills to persons with autism should always get the
approval of the team in order to determine if driving is realistic for
this person. If driving is not a possibility, other means of transportation
should be investigated in order to give the person with autism as much
independence as possible.
pathologist (SLP) has a great deal to offer either during individual or
group models of therapy for the person with autism who is learning how
to drive. (If other transportation such as mass transit is determined
to be more realistic, the following language skills will still need strengthening.)
Language skills such as vocabulary, predicting, sequencing, turn taking,
rote memory, map skills, telephone and telephone book skills, and problem
solving are all important parts of being a safe, responsible driver.
The following list
identifies resources for teaching necessary skills for driving. This list
is not all inclusive - be creative!
- brochures from
- auto mechanic books
- state driving test
- insurance policies
- a variety of therapy materials for predicting
- what comes next,
- what is missing,
- or what if...situations
- maps, (before this
street - after that street)
- a variety of therapy
materials for sequencing that utilize both visual and auditory responses
- Actual pictures
of buildings and landmarks that will be passed in any given destination
- board games such
as Connect Four and Checkers for teaching rapid, defensive responses
- Hot Wheels to practice
- state driving test
booklets that teach the laws and assist in passing the written test
- map reading - city
maps and bus route maps and schedules
- for emergency phone
calls and how to get directions
- telephone book
- local phone books
for looking up addresses/phone numbers and businesses
- role play a variety
of situations such as "What if this happens"?
- utilize functional
problem solving therapy materials
peers who have experienced driving would be beneficial for role playing
and discussions of real life situations. The SLP should maintain group
focus and keep the person with autism actively involved. All of the therapy
materials and outside resource materials must be kept meaningful and functional
in order for learning to take place.
Teaching driving skills
is a wonderful opportunity for the SLP to reinforce social/pragmatic language
skills. It also affords the SLP occasions to guide the person with autism
to become aware of the feelings, motivations, and knowledge that the other
drivers are experiencing. (Theory of Mind)
and parents can also reinforce and practice many of the above suggested
techniques. These will take as much rehearsal as possible.
Why do I doubt if
any of the drivers from the first paragraph were autistic? Because people
who are autistic would not cut in front of another driver. They would
stop at every stop sign and perhaps wait there longer than they should.
They would never go over the posted speed limit and yes, they would have
pulled over for an emergency vehicle right along side of me.
I know that people
with autism can learn to drive. My son is 28 years old. He is autistic.
He doesn't go over 35 miles per hour most of the time. He doesn't go in
reverse unless he is forced to. He plans every lane change and turn before
he leaves the house. He checks his seat every time he gets in with a ruler
to make sure that it is the same distance from the steering wheel. He
turns on his radio at stop lights only. If he has a passenger, he talks
at stop lights/signs only. He drives himself to work, the athletic club
and the mall. I don't ride with him too much, but I can smile about it
because my son is independent. Doug drives.
- first serial rights
MEET YOUR PAL
Kathie Harrington,M.A. C.C.C. SLP, is a well known national
speaker and author in the area of autism.
She has written; For
Parents and Professionals: Autism - LinguiSystems, Inc. and For
Parents and Professionals: Autism in Adolescents & Adults - LinguiSystems,
Inc. Kathie is the author of numerous short stories that have been
featured in anthologies such as Chicken Soup for the Soul and A Cup of Comfort.
She is owner of the private practice, Good Speech, Inc. in Las Vegas, Nevada
which specializes in autism and developmental language disorders. She can be
3850 E. Flamingo, PMB - 118,
Las Vegas, NV 89121
web site www.kathiesworld.com