Teens with Autism Learn to Drive through Simulation Study

April 17, 2014

Learning how to drive is one way that teens become independent from their parents. For someone who has autism, learning that skill can be difficult, but researchers at the UVa medical center hope that will all change with the help of their virtual driving study.

"The individuals with autism, they do very well with the basic driving skills," says Daniel Cox, PhD. and professor in the department of Psychiatry and Internal Medicine. "But what is most challenging for them is what happens when they encounter a detour, when someone violates the rules of the road."

Teens are put through a driving simulator to see how they would adapt too those different situations.

"We teach them how to anticipate and look for them and then they actually rehearse in engaging in those atypical driving maneuvers," says Dr. Cox.

It can take four times as long for someone with a high-functioning Autism-Spectrum Disorder to learn how to drive, than someone without. Dr. Cox says that even though they can learn the skills, it is still a challenge.

"It's also a challenge for people who have high-functioning autism, both because of anxiety that comes up with being responsible for being behind the wheel, as well as the complexities and the unpredictability in driving."

Driving is one topic that many people don't associate with autism.

"The ability to have some sort of paying job, going off to college is focus," says Sarah Cain, coordinator for the Autism Driving Study. "One thing that isn't brought up is learning to drive and many of these individuals are capable of obtaining a license and driving independently."

Researchers hope to bring more knowledge on the subject during a seminar on Saturday.

The seminar takes place at on Saturday April 19th at 11 AM and will be held at Bavaro Hall, Room 104, in UVa's Curry School of Education.

If you are interested in attending you are asked to register by calling (434) 243-6478 or by emailing ASDdrivingstudy@virginia.edu.

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