Center for Injury Research and Prevention

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

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 B, Curry AE, Mollen CJ
JournalAutism in Adulthood
Date Published05/2019
Type of Articlejournal

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.