To mark World Autism Awareness Week, and World Autism Awareness Day today, we want to highlight some of the ways in which a supportive driving instructor can make lessons safe and enjoyable for people with ASD.

Lots of people were upset in February by a sudden but temporary switch in policy by the DVLA on drivers with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Thankfully, the information changed back after a couple of weeks. The long-standing guidance is that you only have to declare an ASD diagnosis to the DVLA (or DVA in Northern Ireland) if it affects your ability to drive safely.

For people with ASD and their families, the sudden attention on the issue raised lots of questions about how someone’s driving, or their ability to learn to drive, could be affected.

How we can help you

At How-2-Drive we do everything we can to help people to learn to drive safely. This includes teaching in a pupil-centred way. Our lessons always focus on you as the learner and are tailored to your individual needs.

The characteristics of ASD can be very different from one person to the next. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to adapting driving lessons for people with autism.

You might like to consider the following points before you start looking for a driving academy. When you approach your driving school of choice, give them this information and watch how they take it on board. Their response could help you to decide if they are the right instructor for you.

Once you’ve chosen who to go with, use this information to plan your driving lessons with your instructor.

How you cope in other learning environments

Let the instructor know what sort of situations or scenarios can cause you to feel overwhelmed or stressed. Most importantly, explain the steps they can take to avoid this.

If you find it helpful to take regular breaks, your instructor may recommend taking it in turns behind the wheel, or stopping to look again at the theory.

People with autism process information differently. If you need more time to understand instructions while driving, it’s important to let your instructor know this. They can adapt your lesson to ensure you’re able to learn safely and at your own pace.

Your learning style

Most people tend to have a way in which they learn best, with or without ASD. For some people, they need to see things written down or in a drawing. For others, it is hearing, or repeating the information themselves. What is easiest for you?

Do you prefer to get information in short bursts, or to keep going until you feel like you’ve got it? Do you struggle to perceive things like speed or distance?

A supportive instructor will be keen to understand your learning needs from the very beginning, in order to put in place strategies to meet them.

Interacting with your instructor

You will spend many hours with your instructor, so it’s important that you feel comfortable in their company.

Some people may prefer to limit talking while driving and that’s okay. Others may find it difficult to understand language that isn’t literal and direct.

It’s important to let your instructor know your preferred way to communicate. Also be sure to tell them about any social interactions that might be difficult for you. For example, perhaps you need support with giving or receiving signals from other drivers or pedestrians.

Do you have any physical needs?

Autistic people process sensory information differently. Some people with ASD might be particularly sensitive to certain sounds, light or colours. This could make driving in certain conditions difficult, for example, bright headlights when driving at night.

Your driving instructor should be able to advise on ways they can make lessons more comfortable, especially if driving for longer periods.

Getting the information you need

You may have other questions. A good driving instructor will be prepared to go through everything you need to know to work out the best way forward.

The National Autistic Society has tips on making lessons more comfortable. They also have practical advice on applying for a licence, tests and accessing additional support. You can contact their Norwich branch through their Facebook page.

DVLA has guidance on how to notify them of ASD or other health conditions.

If you would like to find out more about our driving tuition and how we can help accommodate your needs, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.