Part 6: My driving journey – Tips for learning to drive if you’re autistic

In this blog post, I will talk about tips when it comes to learning to drive if you are on the autistic spectrum. I am on the autistic spectrum, and due to this I faced numerous challenges when it came to learning to drive. This meant that I took much longer to learn than the national average. However, with perseverance and the right support, I was able to pass my driving test. I want to use my experiences to help others in a similar position, and this blog will be focused on that.

Note: Whilst I talk about autism in this blog, the content in this blog is also applicable for other neurodivergent conditions or people that struggle with anxiety.

Be upfront with your instructor

You want to tell your instructor as early as possible if there is anything that could cause challenges when it comes to learning to drive. Therefore, you should be upfront with your instructor about your autism and the challenges that could arise with learning to drive. A good and experienced instructor will most likely have taught other learners that are autistic and/or face similar challenges to you. Hence it is unlikely that them adapting their teaching style to accommodate your needs is something that is new to them. In fact, driving instructors would be very happy to make adjustments to accommodate your needs, as want you to pass the driving test. At the end of the day, if you don’t tell your instructor about your autism and the challenges it can cause, they won’t know how to help you. For me, I didn’t ask my instructor to make any specific adjustments to their teaching style, but I made them aware that being on the autistic spectrum could make prone to anxiety during driving lessons.

Don’t give up no matter what in your first few lessons

The majority of people would agree with me in that the first few lessons are the most stressful and nerve wracking. For autistic people, these nerves can be heightened. However, the last thing you want to do is give up because the first few lessons have been stressful. I mentioned in part 1 of this blog series that you don’t want to stop midway through your driving lessons, as stopping and starting is inefficient. Therefore, you must stay resilient and keep going, as it does get easier over time. The easy option is to stop and take a break from driving lessons. However, this can hold you back later down the line in lots of different ways. The hard option is to stick at it with your driving lessons and face the stress head on. Whilst this can be extremely stressful, the rewards of developing as a driver and passing your test are well worth it. Remember that your instructor is an expert in their field, and they can work with you if you are finding driving lessons extremely stressful. For me, I found the first few driving lessons extremely hard and stressful. But I told myself that giving up wasn’t an option and I reframed my mindset to focus on making small progress each lesson. Small progress in each lesson accumulated over time to the point where I was at test standard

Think of driving lessons as a rewarding opportunity

If you are on the autistic spectrum, you will already be aware that learning to drive may be something you will find hard. This could be because the challenges you face due to being autistic can be directly linked to driving (e.g. controlling nerves or spatial awareness). However, by reframing your mindset, you can see these challenges as an opportunity to achieve something big. Moreover, I also found that the things I had learnt from my learning to drive journey are things that I can apply when it comes to navigating life on the autistic spectrum in general. One good example is how to deal with situations that don’t go as well as hoped, as there were driving lessons that didn’t go well and I had to find ways to deal with that. In summary, the perseverance you show and soft skills you learn when it comes to learning to drive are things that can also be applied in other areas of your life. This is why learning to drive can be particularly rewarding for autistic people.

Remember that number of hours is irrelevant

There is a good chance that learning to drive would take longer if you are autistic compared to the average person. However, the end goal of driving lessons is to get your driving license (and then the real learning begins after you pass). Whether you take 20 hours, 40 hours or even 80 hours, you have reached the same end goal. So ultimately it doesn’t matter how long it takes, as the end reward is still the same. If anything, trying to learn too quickly can backfire as you would have less prior experience on the road when you start driving alone after you pass your test. A big worry for me being autistic was that it would take ages for me to learn how to drive. Whilst it did take a long time (96 hours to be precise), it was the time I needed to develop the skills and experience to be a safe driver. Some people might say that taking longer to drive means that it will be more expensive and unaffordable. However, driving is a life skill, and it is worth the money that you put in to it. Furthermore, the reality is that you need to be in a position of being able to afford driving lessons before starting to learn to drive, and you should be thinking about these costs before starting driving lessons.

Focus and build on the small wins

With driving, you won’t go from being a complete beginner to driving totally independently in 1 lesson. For me, it took around 9 months to get from a beginner to driving independently. This might sound daunting, as there are lots of different stages involved in between. Therefore, a good way to approach every driving lesson is to think about small wins that you want to achieve in that lesson, as those small wins do add up. Examples of small wins include:

  • Going a whole lesson without your nerves taking over
  • Do hill starts without any help from your instructor
  • Going a whole lesson without your instructor having to grab the steering wheel or use the dual controls

For autistic people, focusing on what small wins you want to achieve in the next driving lesson and reflecting afterwards on what small wins you have actually achieved will not only help the learning process feel more manageable, but will also help boost your confidence and motivation.

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