MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Many families of young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are concerned that they may have difficulty acquiring driver’s licenses and driving safely because of symptoms of ASD. However, the ability to drive opens the door to a variety of social, occupational, and educational experiences. We aimed to assess differences in simulated driving behaviors of young adults with ASD and those with typical development and to evaluate whether differences depended on level of driving experience and complexity of the driving task.
On average, young adults with ASD had more difficulty regulating their speed and position within their lane compared with typically developing individuals even on a very basic rural route. After completing the basic route, drivers were required to engage in more complex tasks such as changing the radio or engaging in conversation while driving, driving through a construction zone, and following behind a truck. On complex driving tasks, drivers with ASD who had acquired licensure drove similarly to typically developing drivers who had acquired licensure. However, novice drivers with ASD had more difficulty than typically developing drivers regulating their speed and position within the lane.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: Young adults with autism spectrum disorder may have more difficulty than their peers developing basic driving skills, particularly in complex environments and in the early stages of driving training. Given the benefits of driving, young adults with ASD may benefit from additional assessment and specialized training to help them develop driving skills and acquire licensure.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Future studies from our research group are examining predictors of driving skills in young adults with ASD. For instance, driving difficulties may be related to social impairments or executive dysfunction. We are also assessing whether increased difficulty with speed and lane management translates to more overt driving errors (e.g., collisions with pedestrians or other vehicles). Future research should also evaluate on road driving performance in individuals with ASD. Eventually, evidence-based driver training programs can be developed for this population.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: It is important to note that many individuals with ASD can acquire driver’s licenses and drive safely without additional or specialized instruction. We hope that our findings lead to increased access to driving for young adults with ASD rather than deterring families from pursuing licensure.
This study was partially funded by a dissertation grant to the first author from the American Psychological Association (APA) and an internal grant through the Drexel Autism Institute.
Kristina E. Patrick et al. Driving Comparisons Between Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Typical Development, Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics (2018). DOI: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000581
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