A new study has found that two-thirds of teenagers with a high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (HFASD) are currently driving or plan to drive.
Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies note that the rate of children diagnosed with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder has increased over the past decade, which means that more of these kids are approaching the age to drive legally.
“Little is known about how HFASDs affect a person’s ability to drive safely,” said lead author Patty Huang, M.D., a developmental pediatrician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). “Car crashes are the number one cause of death for teenagers, so it is important that we understand how HFASDs impact driving and how to develop appropriate educational and evaluation tools.”
In a first step to better understand the issue, researchers surveyed almost 300 parents of teens with HFASDs and discovered a handful of predictive characteristics among teens who are likely to become drivers, including: Being at least 17 years old; enrolled full-time in high school; planning to attend college; holding a paid job outside the home; having a parent who has taught another teen to drive; and including driving-related goals in his or her individualized education plan (IEP).
“It’s very common for parents of kids with HFASDs to ask how they should handle learning to drive. Knowing these characteristics can help us prepare anticipatory guidance for families,” said Huang. “In Pennsylvania, it’s the law for teens to have a doctor’s sign-off before they can get a learner’s permit and that makes it easier to address driving-specific concerns. In states that don’t have those laws, it’s an issue that physicians should be prepared to address with their patients and their parents.”
When determining whether a teen with an high-functioning autism spectrum disorder is ready to begin driving, researchers say it might be helpful to make an appointment with a specialist, such as an occupational therapist or driving instructor, who can offer guidance on how to break driving lessons down into steps that are easier for these teens to comprehend and put into practice.
“We hope this study will lay the groundwork for future research into improving the ability to assess readiness to drive among teens with autism spectrum,” said Huang.
The study is published this month in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.