Obtaining a driver’s license is every young person’s passport to a certain freedom and independence. Furthermore, it increases job opportunities and allows them to maintain social contacts more easily. However, learning to drive can be, to a certain extent, a stressful and sometimes even a frightening experience. How do young people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience that? To date, limited research has been conducted on driving and learning to drive with ASD. Although, specific characteristics of ASD, such as rapidly switching between tasks, can interfere with the learning (driving) process and the driving ability.
Manual for driving instructors
We developed a brochure with tips and tricks for driving instructors to better give guidance to novice drivers with ASD. We advise them to use a clear language (e.g. avoid the use of sarcasm and cynicism), to give grip (e.g. use routine in your approach) and to be clear (e.g. treat a problem step by step). This brochure was completed thanks to the financial support of the Fund ICT Community for Autism Spectrum Disorder – Koning Boudewijn Stichting.
Underlying mechanisms of driving behaviour
Secondly, with the support of Steunfonds Marguerite-Marie Delacroix, we were able to examine the underlying mechanisms of driving behaviour. By means of computer tasks and driving simulator, we assessed the driving ability (e.g. hazard detection, reaction time, lateral position) and cognitive control (e.g. working memory). Although the driving performance of young persons with or without ASD didn’t fundamentally differ, we possibly found differences in the underlying mechanisms. For example: young people with ASD seem to outweigh limitations in driving behaviour with cognitive skills such as working memory. Further research and analysis still have to confirm this finding.