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).
Although the information changed for 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, and to prove they can by passing their driving test. This includes working in a pupil-centred way, which means lessons always focus on the learner and are tailored to their individual needs.
The characteristics of ASD can be very different from one person to the next, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to thinking about how driving lessons can be adapted to be more suitable.
Here are some points you might like to consider before starting lessons, to help your instructor to plan the most effective lessons. If you are approaching another driving school, giving them this information, and seeing how they take it on board, could help you to decide if they are the right instructor for you.
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, and importantly, the steps they can take to avoid this. If it would help 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 so if you need more time to understand instructions while driving, it’s important to let your instructor know this. They can adapt their 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 to really take them in. For others, it is hearing it, or repeating it themselves. What is best for you?
Do you prefer to get information in short bursts, or to keep going until you feel like you’ve got it? Might 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, usually just the two of you, 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 and also tell them about any social interactions that might be difficult for you – for example, giving or receiving signals from other drivers or pedestrians.
Do you have any physical needs?
Autistic people process sensory information differently and some might be particularly sensitive to certain sounds, light or colours. This could make driving in certain conditions difficult, for example, experiencing bright headlights at night-time.
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, and a good driving instructor will be prepared to go through all of them with you, to work out the best way forward.
The National Autistic Society also has tips on making lessons more comfortable, as well as practical advice on applying for a licence, tests and accessing additional support. You can contact its Norwich branch through their Facebook page.
DVLA outlines how to notify them of ASD or other health conditions.
If you would like to find out more about our lessons and how we can help you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.