In life, there are many rites of passage. For most teenagers, the biggest and most sought after rite is driving a car. Of course if you want to drive, you need a driver’s license. If you want a license, you need to take driver’s education.
In our school district, driver’s education is also a requirement for high school graduation. Since my oldest will be 16 in June, she qualified for driver’s education the second semester of her freshman year. Since she is my oldest, I thought it was a great idea for her to take driver’s education as soon as possible.
I temporarily envisioned all the free time I would have if my daughter could drive and pick up her sisters from all of their various activities. I daydreamed about her running errands, grabbing forgotten grocery items and waiting in pickup lines to drive her sister home from track practice.
I was ecstatic when she started her driving class this year.
I expected the normal apprehension and jitters everyone has when they first start driving. What I did not expect was the amount of anxiety and worry that would accompany my daughter like a backseat driver on every driving endeavor. She started driver’s education in the month of January. I was slightly worried because, living in the Midwest, we often see a fair amount of snow in the harsh months of January and February.
As luck would have it, we didn’t have much snow to brag about this past winter. With snow out of the picture, I assumed my daughter would be driving confidently in no time. One thing I should mention: she is a strict rule follower. When I say strict I mean by the exact letter of the law strict.
Today’s driver’s education students need to acquire a huge amount of driving hours outside of class. This means that my oldest has to drive a lot. Surprisingly, I was not very nervous driving with her. I tried to remain calm and relaxed while sitting in the passenger seat. I knew it would only make her more anxious if I was a nervous wreck.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that my daughter needed constant reassurance and she had to follow the rules exactly as they were written. Needless to say, I did not remember every single word of The Rules of the Road book that I had studied over 25 years ago.
Many people with autism, myself included, need to follow the rules.
It is often not good enough to just “try” to do things according to the rules. We, autistics, want to follow the rules exactly the way they were written. This goes along with our general need to have routines and schedules. We like to have everything in its place. We often cannot see the gray areas, only the black and white.
So what’s the major problem with following the exact rules of the road?
Simple. Most drivers aren’t autistic and don’t always follow the rules of the road. People speed, run stop signs, and turn without looking. My daughter had a difficult time understanding why people don’t follow the rules the way she does. She spent most of her driving time telling me what other drivers were doing wrong.
For weeks, she only focused on what other drivers were doing wrong. I constantly had to remind her to pay attention to her own driving (Also, I didn’t want to die). After a month of frustrating drives, I knew the answer was helping her drive without focusing on everything and everyone else. I flashed back to my own personal experiences as an autistic learning how to drive and remembered that I had a similar problem.
Bingo! I can help her improve her driving.
I reminded her that just like in other areas of life, we can’t control how other people act. We can control how we act, or in this case drive. Yes, it’s that simple.
I told her to focus on her driving and to remember that she cannot control other drivers. I still have to remind her frequently that she cannot police the other drivers on the road, but she is improving every day.
Learning to drive is serious business. When the rigidity of autism is added to the stress of learning how to drive, things can become overwhelming. Just remember that learning to drive is a process requiring encouragement and patience.
By the way, my daughter received an “A” as her final grade for driver’s education. Look out world!
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