Monday, February 22, 2021

And then he decided he wants to drive

As of a couple of years ago, Max wasn't interested in learning how to drive. As of late, oh yes, he does. There is definitely some sibling rivalry happening, because Sabrina is about to start taking driving lessons. But this is also a part of Max's burgeoning independence and perhaps he is ever so slightly tired of us after a year of pandemic quarantining and just wants his freedom. Can't blame him there.

Dave has been doing this slightly unnerving thing of letting Max help steer, and I am the cliched backseat driver. Disclaimer: Do not try this at home.

I was talking about Max and driving with my sister-in-law yesterday, who had the excellent idea of seeing whether we could rent one of those driver ed cars. I started googling and discovered the existence of certified driver rehabilitation specialists, who figure out solutions for drivers with disabilities. I searched the member directory at The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists, found a few at a local rehab center (they're all occupational therapists) and reached out to one I looked up on LinkedIn because she looked friendly and because my Spidey senses said she might be game to figure out a lesson plan for Max and how he can get a learner's permit. 

I mean, Max started driving bumper cars on his own back in 2014 and he's good at it. That's gotta mean something, right?!

Yeah, I miss those cheeks too. 

I haven't yet discovered much research online. An article on developmental disabilities and drivers from Children's Hospital in Philadelphia was pretty discouraging (if realistic), noting that everything from reaction times to judgment calls can pose challenges for young adults with neurodevelopmental differences. One study that examined 609 youth with autism in New Jersey found that fewer than one third of them got a driver's license, versus 83% of other adolescents. Again, not surprising. 

But then, studies don't tell you what's possible when you have a determined son and an equally determined set of parents. I have a feeling that way or another, Max will be hitting the road. 


  1. This post melt my heart, thank you so much Ellen!!! Max is a Super Ninja Warrior, he is so cool and so handsome too 😘

  2. I'm sure Max isn't the first person with autism or the last to want to drive. There must be someone out there who can help him learn. He also might change his mind. He should give it a shot.

  3. We found an experienced, patient instructor is worth their weight in gold! Good luck!!

  4. You could take him go karting. It’s got more of a car set up (separate pedals and steering wheel) than a bumper car, and focuses on staying on the road/course. Also he wouldn’t need to take the permit test to practice driving, (no driving school in NJ will accept you for lessons without a valid one, wouldn’t even take my expired one). The Funplex in East Hannover offers go karting for $8, and I doubt anyone would be there at like 10 on a weekday or Sunday.

  5. How exciting that you are exploring this! This is something I don't ever visualize my son being able to do. Even though I have no experience, I would suggest that at the same time that you help Max learn/use alternate types of transportation independently. For example - bus, subway, taxi, uber, train. This knowledge is always good. But on the chance that he isn't able to drive (don't want to be a Debbie Downer here) he will be able to see that he can still have some of the independence he is striving for. I love this about Max.

  6. Hi Ellen, we asked our school to pay for an evaluation at a driver rehab facility. There was a vision evaluation (not just acuity testing) as well as letting him drive on the campus, with me in the back seat. My son had a poor ability to shift his gaze to the various simulated mirror locations. During the driving portion, the OT first controlled gas and brake, to let him focus on steering. Then she controlled steering to let him focus on gas and brake. He did not respond to numerous verbal cues as the car veered into the grass, etc. She did not recommend that he get a permit, but did say he could be retested in 10 years. We appreciated the professional evaluation.

    1. How exciting. Amazing things can happen in 10 years!

  7. Wow, this is a really big step. I can definitely understand that feeling of being unnerved sitting in the back seat. But it's amazing that you continue to find possibilities for him and the research you shared were things I never even considered before. Good luck with your quest with getting a driver's permit for Max. Keep us all posted! :-)


Thanks for sharing!

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