Before I knew that Daniel had Asperger’s, I just thought he had ADHD. As a part of my motherly habit of borrowing trouble from tomorrow (as Matthew 6 says NOT to do), I started worrying about having a teenage driver someday who would notice a squirrel beside the road and veer off into a tree or another driver. Inattention and impulsivity were my concerns at that time. I decided back then that I would be glad to help my son learn to drive but that I would be even more happy to let an official driver’s education class do the work – most likely one that his high school would offer. Little did I know that I would be his high school and thus, his driver’s ed teacher.
So, now I actually have a 15-year-old teenage boy that I am teaching how to drive. We only have about a month until I have a 16-year-old driver. (Yikes!) As he began to get closer to driving age, I investigated some classes that are offered locally that would teach him how to drive but, knowing my Aspie and NOT knowing if the instructors had ever taught a kid with Asperger’s, I decided that it would be best if the High School of Mom taught him how to drive.
Driving is a stressful thing for any kid learning how to do it but for a kid with Asperger’s, that stress of integrating all the things that you have to integrate (looking at the road, watching for other drivers, staying in the center of your lane, figuring out where you are going, knowing where to turn, figuring out whether to hit the gas or the brake, etc.) PLUS dealing with the social part of listening to your instructor and interpreting his tone of voice is REALLY stressful. The mom in me had learned to keep that calm voice and give clear advance instructions so I took on the scary and prayer-filled job. I tend to also give short directions with not much explanation. I tend to save the explanations for later when we are stopped so that I don’t distract him from driving. (His dad, however, tends to explain a concept for quite a while and really tends to frustrate Daniel while he is driving. He says he can’t listen to all that information and still drive. I think it is probably good for him to learn that skill for when he has people in the car with him but it’s all about the baby steps – one step at a time.)
At first, Daniel had to have music playing while learning to drive – he said he couldn’t concentrate with just silence. He has always liked having background noise while he does things. As he grew in confidence, he didn’t need that anymore. The things that formerly took a lot of concentration became automatic and he began to be able to judge his speed, his distance from other cars, and even set the cruise control with ease.
One really good thing that Daniel’s Asperger’s contributes to his learning to drive is that there is a strong awareness of the rules of the road. He has those signs and speed limits and seat belt rules down pat. He even corrects me rather strongly when I break a rule like taking one hand off the wheel or going a mile or two over the speed limit – irritating but I’m glad to know he knows and will follow those rules.
Now, one month away from the license, we are learning what he calls “paths” to different destinations. He is mapping these out in his mind (even though he can’t seem to memorize the road names) and figuring out how to get to the most common destinations. We are also learning really important things like what to do in an accident and putting a checklist of phone numbers in the glove compartment. I know that not all police officers and not all people understand Asperger’s so I may decide to put this on the emergency sheet too. We will definitely go over what to say in an accident so as not to get the other person angry (like DON’T repeatedly point out what they did wrong or what law they broke).
It is always scary when I send my son somewhere by himself without people who understand him and not knowing what HE will do and how others will react. But, it is a really scary thought to send my son out on the road by himself! He is turning out to be a really good driver and I know he will do just fine. I know that I will have to trust the Lord just like I always do and that the Lord will be faithful. You can be sure, however, there will be a lot of prayers going up from THIS mom when Daniel hits the road solo!