Driving

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Should the Teenager or Young Adult with FASD Operate a Motor Vehicle?

There are so many things that go into learning to drive:

  • Learning the rules of the road 
  • Learning the vocabulary of the written test
  • The driving itself.

Many individuals with FASD have the intellectual functioning to learn how to drive and the physical and mental capacity to operate a motor vehicle.

But does a person with FASD have the executive function at all times to have a driver's license and to be able to independently be responsible to drive a motor vehicle safely in all conditions?

FASD experts advise that even with a great deal of instruction and guidance on being a safe and responsible driver, the executive functions of the brain's frontal lobes of the majority of most persons with FASD are not going to work any better every day. The person affected by FASD is still going to have difficulty generalizing, anticipating consequences, etc. Without supervision, he or she will make mistakes and very poor decisions, and he or she will still forget the rules. Even if they can learn to control their impulses to some degree, the ability to do so will not be there all the time.

Some persons with FASD are able to drive as part of their normal routine. They drive to work, or school, to shop, or to visit family or friends. But these individuals generally stick to a well-known area or a familiar route, and their driving is part of their normal daily, weekly, or monthly schedule.

Here are three messages: two from parents of teenagers diagnosed with FASD; and one in the teenager's own words. All are from subscribers of the OlderFAS email list who wrote about driving:

One of Steve's most serious effects from his FASD is his inability to think on his feet and make a quick decision about things. Based on that, we knew fairly early on - by the time he was ten anyways - that driving was not ever going to be something safe for him to do. We didn't say anything about it for a few years.

About two and a half years ago, when he was probably nearly 14, maybe a little earlier, we started talking about what was practical and could be expected to change, what was always going to be difficult, and one of those things was about him driving. We've always been pretty up-front about FASD with him about how FASD affects his brain and his abilities - what makes him special to us, and what means he will have to do things differently than he might have expected.

Along those lines, I very gently suggested in one of those talks, that perhaps driving was not going to be an option for Steve. Steve always thought he would drive, and we began to talk about how you have to be able to think quickly in response to something unexpected happening and how he struggles with that in a number of different ways; i.e., if he can't count on something he expected to have happen routinely, or had been thinking was the way something would happen....if plans have to change, if he has to problem solve something new.

It was hard - and I told him it wasn't set in stone - a done deal, but that he really does have some problems in that department. Since then, when things have come up where he has difficulty thinking on his feet, it's been the occasional opportunity to remind him, that's a skill he would need for driving.

Steve's now 16 - hasn't said anything about wanting to drive, wanting to learn, etc.

For us, being upfront about the having FASD, explaining how that has affected him ever since we've had diagnoses for him has made all the difference in the world in his being able to accept things as they are, and understand the kinds of decisions we make.

I have fear of not knowing the signs or getting in an accident. I can't learn the laws real easily. I think the rules are too complex. I think if I could learn the laws and get a license, I would be firm not to allow people to talk to me when I am driving. I would like to drive so I could have more freedom and not depend on my mom all the time.

Our son doesn't listen to a thing we tell him that is lesson oriented, so we engage other people to teach him stuff. With the combination of driver's school, practicing online for the DMV permit test, and being coached through driving and testing jitters, our son got his permit on the second try. We were amazed. HE was amazed! It changed his whole view of himself and gave him a huge boost in confidence. And now he has his full license.

Mainly he drives around our area--about a 10-mile radius. He would benefit greatly from a GPS because he uses his SmartPhone for directions. but that doesn't work that well--since he is driving, after all.

Useful Links

Note: Nothing specific about FASD and driving was found on the Internet, probably because there is so much variability among prenatally alcohol-affected individuals. Below are links to articles on learning to drive among persons with functional impairments often characteristic among persons with FASD, such as impulsiveness, easily distracted, low information processing speed, poor memory, etc.
Helping the Learning Disabled Adolescent Learn to Drive
Ask About A.D.H.D., Asperger’s and Driving
Driving Assessments
Tips When Being Pulled Over by an Officer