Teaching Drivers with Autism: Perspectives of Specialized Driver Educators

The transition from adolescence to adulthood presents significant challenges for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. A substantial proportion of adolescents with ASD have restricted access to transportation, contributing to social isolation. Independent licensure enables travel to places of employment, school, and social activities and may mitigate some of this isolation. The authors’ recent study indicates that one in three adolescents with ASD acquire a driver’s license by age 21, and their survey of parents suggest that many more may plan on driving. Thus, there is a critical need for research on the unique learning-to-drive process for adolescents with ASD that may inform the development of tailored supports and interventions for this population. The objective of this study was to understand the driving instruction process for students with ASD through in-depth interviews with specialized driver educators. The authors conducted in-depth interviews with driver educators recruited through snowball sampling within the Association of Driving Rehabilitation Specialists. Eligible participants included occupational therapists certified as driving rehabilitation specialists and certified driver instructors with specialized training to teach adolescents with ASD. The authors developed a semi-structured interview guide that investigated the following areas: driving evaluations, family engagement, instructional strategies, and recommendations to improve the training process. Interviews proceeded until data reached thematic saturation. All interviews were conducted by telephone, audio- recorded, and transcribed. The authors employed a directed content analysis to develop the coding scheme for thematic coding. A random sample of transcripts were independently coded by two co-authors to assess intercoder reliability using NVivo (Version 11, QSR International). Coded transcripts were then re-read by the study team to develop themes mapped to the interview guide domains through consensus discussion. The authors interviewed 17 driver educators who primarily identified as occupational therapists (88%). Co-authors achieved near perfect coding agreement across all codes utilized (99.5%, Range: 97.6%–100%). Most educators use specific processes for determining driver readiness including visual, cognitive, physical, and behavioral assessments. Many also review the Adolescent Life Skills Checklist to assess the independence and maturity of the student driver. A critical partnership exists between the student driver, educator, and family. Educators noted that some families paradoxically limit their student’s independence at home (e.g., will not leave them home for extended periods of time, heavy supervision while cooking), while wanting them to expand their independence through the task of driving. While parents are often eager, educators explained that many students lack interest and have anxiety about driving. Therefore, many educators recommend that families work to expand student’s independence, introduce pre-driving activities (e.g. bike riding) to develop navigation and environmental scanning skills, and give the student an opportunity to be an engaged front-seat passenger before pursuing behind-the-wheel training. Educators shared that successful strategies to teach driving skills include visual instruction through models, simulations and driving apps, and passenger/commentary driving. While educators disagreed regarding exact teaching methodology, they acknowledged that instructing students with ASD requires specialized experience. Further, the lack of best practice guidelines left educators concerned that the majority of driving educators may be poorly equipped to instruct students with ASD. These results may help tailor the learning-to-drive process for educators, families, and students with ASD. Specifically, educators identified key actions that can be taken by families to enhance student driving readiness and likelihood of licensure success. Through rigorous assessment and utilization of diverse teaching strategies, educators are able to determine driving readiness and help prepare students for on- road-driving. Opportunities exist to enhance families’ understanding of the skills needed to initiate on-road-driving and to standardize teaching and share assessment and educational tools with non-specialized educators. Future research will examine the perspectives of additional key stakeholders—including family members and the students themselves—as a next step in understanding the unique challenges and successes in the learning-to-drive process for adolescents with ASD.

  • Supplemental Notes:
    • This paper was sponsored by TRB committee ANB30 Standing Committee on Operator Education and Regulation.
  • Corporate Authors:

    Transportation Research Board

  • Authors:
    • Bonsu, Janice M
    • Carey, Meghan E
    • Myers, Rachel K
    • Yerys, Benjamin E
    • Mollen, Cynthia J
    • Curry, Allison E
  • Conference:
  • Date: 2019


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Pagination: 4p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01697705
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: 19-03016
  • Files: TRIS, TRB, ATRI
  • Created Date: Dec 7 2018 9:35AM