Driving and Autism- when is it time?
In my last post I talked about Taylor turning sixteen and missing that huge milestone, driving. Today I want to expand on that just a little bit.
I have never written anything off when it comes to Taylor, not even driving. Did he start learning how to drive when he was fifteen like the rest of his peers? No.
Was he ready? Also no.
Did I believe he would drive one day? Absolutely!
Taylor is the oldest of my three boys. He is two and half years older than my middle son, Brendan and six years older than my youngest son, Jordan. Maybe it is because they are closer in age that Brendan has always been able to push Taylor out of his comfort zone and try new things. Taylor is the oldest and he understands that the big brother is supposed to do things before the younger brothers. For this reason, he has always tried to do his best to keep up with Brendan.
So imagine my surprise when, after months of teaching Brendan how to drive, Taylor still had no desire. He didn’t even want to discuss it.
At the time I drove an Expedition XL, which is the size of a Suburban. It was BIG and intimidating. I wanted Brendan to learn how to drive in that vehicle. My thinking was, if he can drive that big truck, he can drive anything. For Taylor, it wasn’t something he or I even considered. What I suggested to Taylor was that he could learn to drive his dad’s car. Much smaller and definitely easier to navigate.
Nope. Nada. No THANKS! Taylor was having none of it.
I didn’t push the issue. Taylor still wasn’t ready and honestly neither was my husband or I. Just teaching Brendan to drive was enough!
With Taylor we had to know with absolute certainty that he could handle all the distractions. All those things that don’t even register to you or me are in high detail to Taylor. Then there are the bigger things like a dog sitting in a car next to us, a dead animal on the road or someone walking down the side of the road. DISTRACTIONS.
On the other hand, he didn’t need to be so focused on the road in front of him that he blocked out everything else. He needed to develop the skill to be able to focus on driving and also be aware of everything else around him. For most of us, the ability to do this just comes naturally and is what we call “white noise”. We know there are all kinds of things going on around us 24 hours a day but we can tune it all out and not even think about it. Taylor has to work really hard to do this and for something like driving, I knew this could come to a life or death lesson for him.
So, I let it go and didn’t push.
The next year when Brendan got his first car I thought, “NOW Taylor will want to drive.” I mentally prepared myself and waited for Taylor to bring it up.
Nope. Still not interested.
One day I finally sat him down and just asked him. “Taylor, why don’t you want to learn how to drive?”
“Because I might wreck and die.”
I literally sat there and had no idea what to say. First because this was and is the biggest fear of teaching your child how to drive because IT CAN HAPPEN!
He was right. He could have a wreck and he could die. I have lost many friends in car accidents so I couldn’t think of a thing to say at first. Anything I said contrary to that would be a lie and I wasn’t going to do that. What I did tell him was that his dad and I could teach him how to drive safely. I also told him that not all people who drive die but that was honestly the best I could think of. So, I let it go, again…for the time.
I think it was about a week later that we were on our way home and passed a wreck down the road from our house. Lights and sirens everywhere. A car had flipped and gone over into a ditch. Taylor said “Look! See?”
I did see.
Neither one of us were ready. It wasn’t time. I didn’t know when it would happen but I knew it wasn’t then. I believed one day it would, he just wasn’t there yet. We were on Taylor’s timeline and he was in no big hurry.
When he graduated from high school that year he went on into a year long extended school program call “Project Search.” This program was for new graduates with special needs and worked like a trade school in some ways. The way I explained it to Taylor was that this was like his college.
Project Search helped Taylor learn skills and develop new ones that would help him get a job and one day live independently. He learned about bank accounts, paying bills, having a job, social skills with coworkers and how to show respect to those in authority. Another thing they did was take him to the DMV to get his driving permit and they helped him study for the test for many weeks.
Taylor was nervous. As we approached the date to the test, he became more and more tense. He was scared. I asked him about it one day and he told me he didn’t want to drive. He was scared he would wreck. “Wreck and then die.” I realized that Taylor thought he was about to take an actual driving test.
When I explained to him that his test would just be on paper and that he didn’t have to drive anything, he relaxed immediately.
He took the test that week and he PASSED! At the age of 19 Taylor finally had his drivers permit! He had done it!!
Once you have your drivers permit, you have six years to get your license before having to retake the test. We had six years. I believed Taylor could do this.
I think that little card was the key to boosting his confidence in driving. He started paying more attention when we would go places. He was more interested in driving his grandfather’s golf cart around the neighborhood. Baby steps, remember?
Then one day while we were out running errands, he said, “I want a Jeep.”
“What?” I asked.
“A Jeep. Like that one,” he said pointing to a Jeep Wrangler in the lane next to us.
On the inside I was both excited and mortified! He was actually entertaining the idea of driving, BUT he chose the last vehicle I would ever want him to drive. Sure, Jeep’s are cool, but no roof? No doors? Of course, this would be the one he sees riding down the road.
I said “Those may be a little dangerous. How about something smaller and safer? Let’s keep thinking.”
A few weeks later he made his choice. “I want a Kia Soul,” he told me.
“OH! I could totally see you in a Kia Soul, Taylor! What color do want?”
“Yellow. I’ll put a CrossFit sticker on the back. And I want fuzzy dice.”
WOW. He had been thinking about his for a while. I guess he was serious.
I said, “Well, you can absolutely have your own car one day, but first you need to learn how to drive. Right?”
“Yes,” he said.
He meant it!
We went home and wrote it down on the calendar. “Driving lesson with dad.” That weekend my husband took Taylor for his first, white knuckle driving experience. This was finally happening!
Then the big day happened. Taylor drove my Expedition home from work. He did the speed limit, stopped for school buses and the traffic cop. He even pulled that big truck into our steep drive way. He did AMAZING! Taylor was driving!
As of today, he has been driving for over a year. He still doesn’t have his license yet because he still isn’t quite ready to drive independently. He has been driving to and from work almost every day. Each day he becomes more and more confident. Every time I ride with him I am filled with so much joy I could burst. It really is hard to describe.
Is it scary? Oh my gosh, yes! Just like it was riding with Brendan. Just like it is riding with my husband! I do not like not having control so it’s just me being “mom” but I am getting better at relaxing when he is behind the wheel. I worry most about other drivers and I am not sure that will ever go away, but Taylor is going to be fine. He is moving at his own pace and it’s chill.
Taylor turned 21 years old this past March and for his birthday, he got his first car. It is a Kia Soul. They don’t make yellow ones anymore so he decided on blue and it is perfect.
The pride and happiness on this kids face is what makes this picture the best! Taylor did it! Now? We work on getting that license.
In fact, just this past weekend we went outside his comfort zone and took him to a new place to drive. Downtown Birmingham. You know what? I think he will have his license before too long.
Will I be ready to let him go on his own?
I don’t know.