Parental support essential when autistic adolescents want to learn to drive: Study

Washington: Parental support plays a very important role when autistic adolescents want to learn to drive, recent findings suggest.

Autistic adolescents need the support of their parents or guardians to prioritise independence so that they are prepared for learning to drive, according to a study of specialised driving instructors who have worked specifically with young autistic drivers.

Driving instructors also emphasised the need to develop and refine best practices to guide the assessment and delivery of highly individualised instruction for autistic adolescents.

According to researchers, driving instructors are an important resource for families, especially for those with autistic adolescents learning to drive.

However, because not much is known about the specific experience of teaching autistic adolescents how to drive, this limits the ability to provide adolescents and families with proper guidance preparing for the learning-to-drive process.

To help bridge this gap, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with specialised driving instructors who had experience working with autistic adolescents and young adults.

This is the first study to examine the process and experience of driving instructors who provide behind-the-wheel training specifically for this population.

The study revealed a set of common themes that underscored the importance of parents of autistic adolescents in preparation for the learning-to-drive process, with driving instructors viewing parents as essential partners in supporting their efforts in teaching driving skills and promoting independence.

Findings were published in the Journal of ‘Autism in Adulthood.’

Participating instructors said that parents can support and prioritise independence by encouraging their autistic adolescents to develop life skills such as mowing the lawn, cooking, and taking public transportation, before learning to drive.

Although the driving instructors identified a need to develop and refine best practices for assessment and instruction, they recognised that specific approaches must be tailored to meet the unique needs of each autistic adolescent driver, reflecting the spectrum that affects each adolescent differently.

Other suggestions from the instructors involved in this study included using of state-level vocational rehabilitation services to provide financial support for instruction, identifying and promoting prerequisite life skills prior to undertaking driving, parent-supervised driving instruction in partnership with professional driving instruction, and tailoring instruction to address the particular needs of learner drivers.

Obtaining a driver’s license is a major milestone in the transition to adulthood. This milestone increases the independence and mobility of adolescents, which can potentially lead to improved access to educational, occupational training, social, and community engagement opportunities.

According to previous research, nearly one-third of autistic adolescents obtain a driver’s license by the time they are 21 years old, which may improve their ability to transition into independent adulthood.


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