Driving Resources for Special Needs Individuals & How to Teach Them

Research has shown that instructors for ASD and developmental disabilities are hard to find and there are very few schools that specialize in working with these individuals, matter of fact there are only five schools in the United States that offer training for Special Needs kids. Research has also shown 1 in 88 of all teens and adults with ASD, according to the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, almost 2/3 of adolescence with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) currently would love the opportunity to learn how to drive.

These are the kids that get overlooked and fall through the cracks and get told they cannot drive, and we love proving these Nay Sayer's wrong, because yes, they can drive! It just takes a little more time and a little more patience. For High Functioning Special Needs (ASD) individuals with severe intellectual disabilities, getting a driver's license is an achievable and realistic goal. While no one really knows what causes Autism, there is a general agreement when it comes to defining what Autism is.


Autism Spectrum Disorder and (ASD) and Autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of the brain development. These disorders are characterized to varying degrees, by difficulties in social interactions verbal and non-verbal communication and repetitive behavior. They include Autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative disorder, Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome. Autism Spectrum Disorder can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues. Some individuals with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math, art, etc.

The puzzle that is used as a universal symbol for Autism explains just how different each person with Autism is. It is a great puzzle of varied disabilities, each piece being unique and fitting only just so to explain the big picture of that person. The medical profession is quite new to discovering how to treat these disorders and parents have formed numerous support groups to just be able to function day-to-day.

Even though teachers are the ones we run to the most, they are also learning from these children every day and developing new ways to guide them on the learning path, we are all learning together. Here at Safety First we strive to make a better world for these children. Many studies have been conducted over the last decade discovering how many ASD and Special Needs individuals are able to obtain and successfully use a driver's license. Autistic teens who drive fared better than their peers, that only 12% of Autistic teen drivers had gotten a ticket or been involved in an accident, according to one study, compared with the 31% and 22% of all teens that have gotten a ticket or been in an accident, respectively. Researchers found promising results for the future of Autistic drivers when it was recorded that 1 in 3 teens who have Autism and no intellectual disability can earn a driver license, but it may take more time to achieve this goal, but it is possible. It is important for moms and dads to know their child's limitations and set their driving restrictions, such as not driving at night or on busy highways.

Determining Readiness to Drive

We here at Safety First work directly with Special Needs individuals, their families, their primary care physicians, therapists, and any other important members of their treatment team, before embarking on this journey to determine their readiness for driving. Ultimately, determining the readiness to drive is often a personal and a family decision. It also depends on the individual's interest in learning to drive. If an individual does not have the desire to drive, there is little reason to embark on the endeavor. Instructors who specialize in or have training working with individuals with special needs can also be consulted prior to starting lessons. We can provide behind-the-wheel lessons when the student is ready. If the individual is ready and they are motivated to learn, have a supportive family, and the right instructors, it can help make the goal of becoming a licensed driver a reality. Getting a driver’s license offers a certain level of freedom, and it is a rite of passage for many young adults. Special Needs presents unique challenges that can impact how someone learns to drive, but it is possible. These special needs teens and adults can successfully learn to drive safely, defensively, and undistracted. Like anyone learning to drive, autistic individuals must take exceptional care in learning the rules of the road and how to safely operate a vehicle. Sometimes, extra attention to certain driving-related skills is needed to offset some of the difficulties presented by Autism.

Challenges that Special Needs Students without intellectual disability face that impact driving ability include impairments in:

  • Motor Skills
  • Social Interactions
  • Coordination
  • Communication
  • Emotional Regulation
  • Attention abilities
  • Executive functioning
The above skills are important for safe driving. Special needs can affect the ability to make quick decisions and process all the information that comes with driving on the road, but it can improve other driving skills, like obeying traffic laws.

Consider these questions to determine driving readiness:

  • Does the individual consistently exhibit good judgment and maturity?
  • Is the individual receptive to instruction and constructive criticism?
  • Does the individual demonstrate knowledge of the rules of the road and what is covered in driver education classes?
  • Is the individual up for practicing with a skilled and licensed adult?
  • Is there a licensed adult who is willing to practice with the individual?
  • Does the individual have any medical or behavioral conditions that could inhibit safe driving?
  • Are there any medical interventions, such as medication for ADHD, that are needed to promote safe driving?

Although there is a minimum age in each state for when you can get your license, it does not mean you have to get it as soon as you turn 16. You may be ready to start learning to drive, or you may feel more prepared to learn in a few years. An open conversation with your family and support team will help determine when the right time for you to start learning to drive.

There is no law that prohibits individuals with special needs from learning how to drive. The most critical issue for everyone is Safety. Determining when someone with special needs is ready to drive depends on many factors, such as interest in driving, ability to multitask, personal judgment, and maturity level. Again, it is wise to consult with your child’s care team and support team and ask your child if they are ready before deciding on readiness.

When Researching driving schools, it can be beneficial to find a school that specializes in working with individuals with special needs that will help you find a program that best fits your needs. As prevalence rates and awareness of Autism are growing, programs are expanding services to meet the needs of this unique population.

Instructing your Child with Special Needs to Drive If you have a child with special needs that has expressed interest in learning how to drive, it is important for you to know that THEY CAN DO IT. Learning to drive is a major step in the transition into adulthood for many adolescents. Young adults with and without special needs have personal, social, and employment related reasons for wanting to learn how to drive. For special needs individuals, it is essential that their support team is fully on board with them learning how to drive.

The process of teaching any teen or young adult how to drive can be stressful. Parents of special needs children face additional challenges in this process. Here are some tips for parents of a special needs child who is learning to drive:

  • Be Patient. Your child will not be a good driver their first time behind the wheel. Do not expect too much too soon.
  • Allow them to make mistakes. This is part of the learning process. Resist the urge to draw conclusions on their ability early on.
  • Start slow and build upon skills as they improve. The process of learning how to drive takes a while, so do not give all the needed information in the first lesson.
  • Break down the skills into individual steps. Keep your language clear, concise and take larger concepts and explain them in small steps.
  • Practice A LOT. Repetition of skills is important, even if it seems like they have it down, repeat it regularly.
  • Go over the verbal and the visual information prior to driving. Talk through things before starting the practical part of the lesson.
  • Encourage your child to practice. Driving simulation games are great and a safe way for inexperienced drivers and young drivers to practice. They can hone driving-related skills, like motor skills and reaction times.
  • The most important thing when teaching special needs individuals to drive is to allow them to learn at their own pace, always stay calm and do not worry if it takes them longer than you think it should to learn a new skill. It is tough to not see progress daily, but if you look at the growth over weeks or months, you will see they have come a long way. There is no timeline for how long it should take them to learn how to drive, and to become safe, defensive, undistracted drivers. Let their motivation drive the learning process and do your best to support them along their journey to getting a driver's license. With the right support in place and putting them with the right driving instructors it can be a positive and rewarding experience for individuals with special needs.
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