By Christa Holmans, Neurodivergent Rebel
In many countries, driving is a rite of passage, but some people will always struggle with driving if they drive at all.
I was fourteen when I went to see the first Fast and the Furious movie at the theatre with a few kids from school. Would Los Angeles police officer Brian O’Conner choose the street racing world he had been sent undercover to destroy, or would he betray his newfound family?
I loved that movie. Like many young people in the early 2000’s, I was influenced by that Fast & Furious crew.
A crucial part of my Autistic experience is being intensely interested in the things that catch my enthusiasm to the point where my hobbies often become all-consuming. Brian and Toretto sparked my interest in cars and driving, ensuring that getting my license would become my number one priority, even if it killed me.
“I’ve got a bad habit of avoiding things in life that are difficult for me to learn unless something forces me out of my comfort zone. Driving could have easily been one of those things, but after seeing the Fast and the Furious, driving and cars became my top focus.”
Learning to drive wasn’t easy, but I did it. Learning to drive was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I had to put in many hours of practice, and even now must make extra effort to slow down and focus, but I managed to learn to do what some may have thought was impossible – learned to operate a motor vehicle safely.
I want to be transparent with you regarding the fact that I’m still not the best driver. I’m not a great driver. I wouldn’t even call myself a good driver. I’m an acceptable driver who can get from point A to point B, very carefully, with GPS, in ideal conditions, if traffic isn’t too bad.
I manage it when I need to. Driving in traffic is still strenuous, especially if I have to switch lanes or pull out into heavy or fast traffic from a stop. Operating a vehicle at night time will always be extremely challenging, so I avoid it as much as possible.
There have been many accidents over my driving career, especially when I was first learning to handle a car. My mother has always said that I have poor depth perception. This has never been confirmed, other than by my constant walking into walls and other stationary objects.
Not all Autistic people have this driving difficulty. Some Autistic people are fantastic drivers. Just ask 19-year-old Armani Williams, NASCAR’s first openly Autistic driver – who can handle cars at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.
I love watching NASCAR but could never handle moving at those speeds. I struggle to control the car even on toll roads when the speed limit is 85mph.
Like with all things, the Autistic experience of driving is vast. What’s true for one Autistic person may be entirely different for the next. I struggle to drive, some Autistic people will never drive, and others drive as if doing so was second nature. It’s just another way all Autistics are unique.
Always curious to hear about the variety of experiences in the online Autistic community, as I’ve done many times over the years, I opened up Twitter and typed out my question:
Is driving easy for you or are you like me, and struggle with it? What is driving like for you?
Driving has always been stressful for me, but I didn’t realize exactly how bad it was until the pandemic when I stopped driving so much and saw a huge reduction in my overall stress level. Now I can better see how hard it is on me. | Brandi, @awesomebrandi
Driving is much easier for me now that my ADHD is medicated. I am much more able to filter things and cope with all of the information that is coming in. | Anonymous
I don’t enjoy driving like some people do, but I’m a good driver, if overly cautious sometimes. | Missy Woford, @Missy_Woford
I can’t. I have trouble with my hand-eye coordination, executive funcioning and, most importantly, my body awareness. That’s also the reason why I’m not really good at competitive gaming. | Mario A. Puga V., @mapugavalera (Peru)
I generally like driving familiar routes and highways, since I can listen to music and think, but I’m very stressed if it gets even slightly mentally demanding. | @Sunless_K
I’m mostly okay with it now, a decade into driving, as long as it’s not somewhere overwhelming – ex. a new city with lots of cars, lanes, and lights, esp at night. Anxiety medication made me stop panicking about merging and changing lanes. | Sam Neukirch, @sam_the_chicken
I love driving. It feels free and it’s exhilarating to driving fast. I’ve always been quite a thrill-seeker though so maybe driving is just another thrill. I love how I can be alone with my music as loud as I want it, singing my head off and I can go wherever I want without people. | Kelly Steele, @Kelanst
I’m not a great driver and I can’t have people talking or distractions in the car but if I take my time and be careful I’m decent. one thing I learned is to learn to drive a car before I learned to drive on the road | @BiggMattWeaford
It took me a long time to learn the physical coordination but it’s all pattern recognition and rhythm so now that I have the physical coordination skills I am fine | @ischemgeek
I love driving and even started as early as 12 with having my dad take me to practice in empty parking lots. It’s even one of my stims! I’ll drive the same route over and over for hours and sing along to music. | Oisin K. @Wombatcausewhy1
I actually love driving… navigating roadways to my destination is all a part of system that I’m familiar with. Being behind the wheel can feel freeing at times. | S.M. “Cerb” Cerberus, @cerberussm
I drive…uniquely. I dislike left turns entirely, so I will update my route to include as many right turns as possible, even if it lengthens my route to do so. I also get stressed out in high traffic situations. Phone navigation helps *some*. Not enough warning though. | Bethie K, @Ember_Pixie