Teaching Autistic Adolescents and Young Adults to Drive: Perspectives of Specialized Driving Instructors

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TitleTeaching Autistic Adolescents and Young Adults to Drive: Perspectives of Specialized Driving Instructors
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsMyers, RK, Bonsu, JM, Carey, ME, Yerys, BE, Mollen, CJ, Curry, AE
JournalAutism in Adulthood

Background: Limited transportation access may curtail education, occupational training, social, and community engagement opportunities for autistic adolescents. Nearly one-third of autistic adolescents obtain a driver's license by age 21 years, which may increase mobility and improve autistic adolescents' transition to independent adulthood. This study examined driving instructors' perspectives and experiences of teaching autistic adolescents to drive to facilitate a safe learning-to-drive process.

Methods: We conducted interviews with driving instructors with specialized training to teach autistic adolescents to drive. Participants were recruited through purposive and snowball sampling. Semistructured interviews investigated family engagement; instructor observations; instructors' teaching strategies; and recommendations for improving the learning-to-drive process. A directed content analysis approach informed the development of a coding scheme. Coded transcripts were reviewed to identify themes.

Results: We interviewed 17 driving instructors who primarily identified as occupational therapists. Key themes included importance of parent engagement; fostering independence; individualization of instructional strategies; and enhancements to the learning-to-drive process. Parent engagement prepared autistic students to undertake on-road instruction and supported skill development. While some families paradoxically limited adolescents' independence (e.g., heavy supervision while cooking, limiting participation in bicycling or lawn mowing) despite wanting them to pursue licensure, instructors believed that demonstrating independence in such life skills was necessary for safely undertaking on-road instruction. Instructors shared how they individualized assessments and tailored lessons over a prolonged period of time to promote safety and skill acquisition. Specific recommendations for enhancing the learning-to-drive process included standardizing instructional approaches and refining clinical assessment tools to determine driver readiness.

Conclusions: Our findings highlight the need for parental engagement to support the learning-to-drive process and to foster the independence necessary to undertake highly individualized driving instruction. Efforts to increase families' access to tools to promote driving readiness and establishing best practices for instructors may enhance the efficiency and standardization of the learning-to-drive process.