Teens With Autism and Driving: Often a Tough Discussion

Determining whether a young person with autism is ready to drive can be tricky for their health care providers.

That’s the upshot of a new survey that included 78 pediatric physicians, psychologists and other providers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Half of the respondents said they routinely talk to teen patients about their transportation needs with an eye to encouraging mobility and independence, but only 1 in 5 had had such discussions with patients with autism.

While 33% said they believed they could assess if patients without autism were ready to drive, only 8% believed they could do so for those with autism.

“It was also surprising to learn that only 1 in 4 providers refer their patients, autistic or not, to other providers for driving-related issues,” said study lead author Emma Sartin, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

“Our next steps will be to start developing resources and tools so that families, and the professionals who support them, are not left largely on their own to make or guide important decisions about driving,” Sartin added in a hospital news release.

Previous research from CHOP found that two-thirds of 15- to 18-year-olds with autism but not an intellectual disability either drive or plan to drive. One-third get licensed by age 21.

Other recent research showed that newly licensed drivers with autism have similar to lower crash rates than those without autism. That suggests those with autism who get a license are generally safe drivers.

Also, young drivers with autism are much less likely to receive a traffic violation or license suspension, other CHOP research found.

Co-author Benjamin Yerys, a clinical psychologist at the CHOP Center for Autism Research, suggested providers begin talking to teens with autism and their parents about driving and transportation before they reach high school.

“We know this seems early, but it provides more time for them to benefit from supports, including those services that come from outside of health care, including tailored instruction from a driving rehabilitation specialist,” he said in the release.

The findings were recently published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

More information

For more on autism and driving, see the Autism Society.

SOURCE: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, news release, Dec. 16, 2021