a car on the roadAdults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) experience various barriers to independent living. Research from Drexel University finds that driving might be one of them. The study is the first to investigate how adults on the autism spectrum deal with driving. The researchers find that adults with ASD report less competence in driving than do neurotypical adults. Although the study is small, the findings are the first step in exploring an important part of the autistic adult experience.

The researchers collected survey data from 78 adults with ASD and 94 with ASD. The self-reported questionnaire asked about the age at which the participants acquired a driver’s license, traffic violations, and driving behaviors.

This is not study co-author Maria Schultheis’, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Drexel University, first driving study. Her prior work studied the driving abilities of people with other conditions like multiple sclerosis. When investigating driving skills, Schultheis starts by determining which aspects of the condition might affect driving and then talking to individuals about their experiences.

Adults with autism reported earning their drivers’ licenses at a later age, driving less frequently, restricting their own driving behaviors, like not driving on freeways at night, significantly more than adults without ASD. Adults with ASD also reported more traffic violations. The researchers noted that the driving issues that adults with autism reported were not restricted to a particular area like difficulty predicting other drivers’ behavior. Because the reported challenges in driving were general, the researchers think there may be global problems with driving for people with ASD.

Although the study is small, it may help researchers establish a need for more educational supports for safe driving—a critical part of being independent—for people with autism. The researchers are planning a second study on the subject using a driving simulation.

“This is a first step toward identifying, categorizing and quantifying challenges that may exist in this population. What we find will help determine what needs there may be for interventions, from driver education programs to different kinds of training exposures,” commented Schultheis.

This research is published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

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