I need a manual!!! Not a general manual, but one that is specific to each of my kids, their development and their needs. It would make life a bit humdrum, I suppose, but a manual would certainly take care of the guesswork. I am all for that! I know, I know, this is every parents wish at some point. In the early years there are tons of books like, ‘What to Expect in the First Year”. Milestones are laid out, kind of like a cookbook.
As kids get older, development and growth is so much more complex. The potential gaps in their development are so varied and can be much wider. Add in executive function challenges and a handful of other diagnoses and it can be near impossible to know whether or not the youth is ready for the next step toward adulthood and independence. In this case, driving. My family has two potential new drivers. Both of my boys have passed the magic age to get their Learners Drivers License. In my province, that age is 16. They are 17 and 18. My 18 year old has his Learners License. That is where we have stalled. More accurately, that is where I have stalled.
Why am I so hesitant to encourage this next step to adulthood? It’s simple. Safety on the road. Safety for others, for my sons, and yes, my car. My oldest son is super smart and killed the multiple choice Learner’s exam getting only one wrong. Now, if driving would only be that easy. Driving practice has been trickier. He is easily distracted and has been known to blow an occasional stop sign or begin veering into the lane beside him, completely unaware of what just happened. And then there is the radio. First time out, he figured he was ready to search for a music station AND focus on the road. Thankfully, I had the foresight to have him start his driving career in an empty parking lot.
Another challenge is teachability. My son, I love him dearly, is an awesome learner but a cruddy pupil. He will argue and NOT back down. He thinks he knows best most of the time. On one hand, a typical teenager, on the other hand, much more intense. This can make learning to drive, especially in a critical moment, when it is necessary for the learner to take direction from the parent ….Immediately, incredibly risky. This is NOT the time for a debate! O how he lives to be right!
Of course perspective taking is another necessity and difficulty for someone on the autism spectrum. It is not okay to keep driving through a crowded intersection because your light was green and the other driver’s was red. Although this has never happened and is irrational (I hope), it’s my fear. Not being able to pick up on the other driver’s clues and cues is a huge problem. Is their car veering to the right even though their signal lights are not on? How are you going to respond? Why might the driver ahead of you be slowing down even though the speed limit says 50? How does what the other driver does affect what you do next? Does this resonate? Yes, this may be a typical mom’s brain gone a little crazy, but there’s more than that going on here..
I can’t help but wonder though,,,,,,what if he is ready to get his driver’s license and I am holding him back? How will I know? I ask myself this question often. I have a community of professionals and friends who also give me feedback so that I can be more objective when making a decision like this. It is helpful to turn to this community for their wisdom and input so that I can give my son a well thought reason why we he needs to wait to get to the next driving step. I can’t stress enough the importance of having a community of trusted professional around you and your youth as you navigate through some huge decisions.
Here are some next step I am taking:
- Check with involved service providers – Behaviour Consultant, Occupational Therapist, Doctor, etc. to assess readiness.
- Find a driving instructor that understands and is skilled with working with special needs youth (could be tricky).
- Have a frank discussion about the importance of taking instruction from a more experienced driver when he is behind the wheel of the car.
- Practice driving in safe locations (parking lots and countryside etc.).
- Gradually move toward busy areas that demand greater focus and quick decision making.
- Limit distractions.
- Teach mastery before moving to the next skill – braking, parking, turning, changing lanes, etc.
AND keep assessing whether or not now is the time for him to get that N (Novice Driver). I am thankful that my province has a graduated licencing program. This means that there are more checks in place before he is off cruising in the family car!