ARCHIVED How to Drive with Autism
ARCHIVED: Please note, whilst every effort has been made to update blog posts, this blog post has been archived and may present outdated and incorrect information and terminology.
Today I took my first (of many to come) practical driving tests. I should have known it wasn’t going to go so well when the examiner asked me to make my way to the car, at which point I realised I didn’t have the keys or a clue where they were. My driving instructor looked on rather embarrassed whilst I legged it over to the car to take them out of the ignition. Upon putting the car into first gear and releasing the hand break, the car did nothing. I sat perplexed for several seconds before realising I hadn’t turned the ignition on. I was so busy trying to mentally prepare ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’, reverse bay parking at a 90 degree angle, and how to measure the 1.6mm tread depth of the tires, no one thought to remind me of the basics.
I consider myself to be a fairly good driver, and have been pretty average when it comes to learning to drive. However, there are some essential things I will never comprehend or be able to process. For instance, where my car is in relation to what I can see in my mirrors. I am perfectly capable of parking the car and reversing etc, but try and teach me a method of angles and lines using my mirrors and you might as well be trying to teach a donkey. Whatever you do, do not tell me to get into the right hand lane without advanced notice because I will take this extremely literally, even if that means getting into the farthest right lane where the traffic is coming in the opposite direction. Actually, it is probably best you avoid all verbal instructions at all unless I have at least half a mile to process them. Today I failed because I was so busy trying to do what the examiner told me exactly right, I had no time for all the basics such as following road traffic signs or to wait for oncoming traffic. Apparently there was one near collision; however, I must have been so deep in concentration because it completely bypassed me.
At this point you’d be forgiven for thinking it was probably best I failed and avoid using the roads for the time being, but honestly I am a good, safe, sensible and competent driver, I just cannot multi-task someone else’s instructions whilst doing it. Driving does not overwhelm me, in fact it calms me. Being autistic has not made me full of road rage and impatience, but has given me a lot of confidence; I did not even start learning to drive until I was in my twenties because I never thought it was something I would be able to manage. The DVLA specifies that if you have an Autism Spectrum Condition then you should declare it when applying for a driving licence if it affects your driving, for example if you also have Dyspraxia or problems multi-tasking. Let’s be honest though, there must be at least a third of people on the road that have issues multi-tasking. The only way to find out if it’s going to be a problem is to give it a go! I was fortunate enough to have started driving before I found out I was autistic, so was not put off by having the condition. There are instructors who specialise is teaching people with learning difficulties, and it is also something you can bring up with your examiner to ensure you get a fair test. Also check out videos below from the “Autistic Driving School” film, shown on BBC3 in 2010, which follows a group of characters with Autism at various stages along the journey to their driving test.