When is an Autistic Teen Ready to Drive?


In a 2017 study conducted by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and published in the journal, Autism, 1 in 3 adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will acquire at least an intermediate driver’s license, and most receive their license by age 17. Many teens with ASD receive their license within two years after receiving their learners permit.

An article published by CHOP provided a summary of the data uncovered in the study. Researchers conducted a unique linkage of more than 52,000 electronic health records (EHR) of children born from 1987 to 1995 and New Jersey driver licensing data to determine patterns among adolescents and young adults with ASD (without intellectual disability) and those without ASD. Nearly 90 percent of learner’s permit holders with ASD received an intermediate license within two years, at a median rate of 9.2 months later than other adolescents. By age 21, more than 34 percent of drivers with ASD received their intermediate license.

“For teens on the autism spectrum, the decision to pursue a driver’s license is one of several milestones that other families might take for granted. Independent means of transportation contributes to other long-term opportunities, such as post-high school education or employment and being socially involved and connected within their community,” says Benjamin Yerys, PhD, study co-author and a scientist at the Center for Autism Research (CAR) at CHOP. “ASD can affect decision-making, information processing and attention to varying degrees, and we need to understand what resources, specialized instruction, and other supports might be helpful for teens and adults with ASD who are considering or preparing to drive.”

There are seven key factors and skills a driver needs to be a safe, consciousnesses and focused driver. Driving MBA accounts for these factors in our training methodology:

  • Social judgment
  • Motor coordination
  • Pre-planning
  • Flexibility to change
  • Ability to focus
  • Multi-task
  • Prioritize

DMBA also uses specific questions, developed by autism and driving safety researchers at CHOP, which we discuss with parents and ask them to discuss with their families and physicians to help them determine if their ASD teen is ready for the responsibility of driving:

  • Do you feel you/ your teen or young adult consistently demonstrates good judgment and maturity at school, around peers, and at home?
  • Are you/ your teen receptive to constructive criticism and instruction?
  • Do you/ your teen demonstrate knowledge of the rules of the road and other skills taught in driver education classes? If not, do you need specialized instruction or a driving assessment?
  • Are you/ your teen agreeable to practicing driving with a skilled adult prior to driving independently? If so, is there an adult who is willing and able to serve in this important role?
  • Are there any medical or behavioral conditions (such as significant visual impairment) that may prevent you/your teen from driving safely?
  • Are there medical interventions that may be needed to ensure safe driving behaviors, such as treatment with ADHD medication if you/your teen has symptoms of ADHD?

Driving MBA employs professional educators and instructors with experience teaching children with special education needs and, particularly, students who fall on the Autism spectrum. They are skilled in working with students who require customized training and use education techniques and tools that have a very high success rate with exceptional learners.

Not all students with ASD will be ready to drive as a teenager; some students, depending on the severity of their challenges, may have a more difficult time than others. Our team conducts thorough assessments using decades of research, some that we have validated as real-time practitioners, to determine if your ASD teen has the skills needed to be safe behind the wheel. We will provide parents with an honest assessment and create a learning plan that will work best for the student. Sometimes it takes a couple of years to complete, so it is important that parents work in collaboration with instructors to ensure the student is ready, no matter how long it takes.

Read the full article published in CHOPS News here.

author avatar
Maria Wojtczak
Maria Wojtczak is Chief Operating Officer at DrivingMBA. She has extensive knowledge in teen brain development and has pioneered many techniques used to teach students at DrivingMBA. Her passion for teaching and saving teen lives has made her a leader in the driver training industry.


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