One question faced by many parents of teenagers on the spectrum is, “Can my child learn to drive?” While there are numerous factors to consider, according to a 2017 study conducted at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), the answer is frequently yes. Academy360’s Drivers Ed class can help parents make the decision.

In their survey, CHOP found that two-thirds of 15- to 18-year-old higher-functioning adolescents with autism are currently driving or plan to drive, and 1 in 3 adolescents with autism without an intellectual disability get licensed by age 21. From CHOP:

We conducted a unique linkage of more than 52,000 electronic health records (EHR) of children born from 1987-1995 residing in New Jersey who were patients of the CHOP Pediatric Healthcare Network and NJ driver licensing data to describe these driving outcomes for adolescents with ASD (without intellectual disability) and those not on the autism spectrum. The key findings have implications for parents, clinicians, driving educators, and researchers:

  • 1 in 3 adolescents with ASD received an intermediate license by age 21.
  • The majority of teens with ASD who receive a license do so in their 17th year, just like other teens.
  • 90 percent of teens with ASD and a learner’s permit received an intermediate license within two years.


While those are encouraging stats, there are a number of questions families should ask themselves before signing their teen up for driving lessons. CHOP offers a checklist for parents:

  • Do you feel your child consistently demonstrates good judgment and maturity at school, around peers, and at home?
  • Is your child receptive to constructive criticism and instruction?
  • Does your child demonstrate rules of the road knowledge and other skills taught in driver education classes? If not, does your child need specialized instruction or a driving assessment?
  • Is your child agreeable to practicing driving with a skilled adult prior to driving independently? If so, is there an adult willing and able to serve in this important role?
  • Are there any medical or behavioral conditions (such as untreated seizures) that may prevent your child from driving safely?
    Are there medical interventions that may be needed to ensure safe driving behaviors?

CHOP also recommends seeking the advice of your teen’s support professionals and/or an occupational therapist who specializes in driving.

  • Families should first schedule a doctor’s appointment to address any concerns, such as communication or cognition issues.
  • They may also want to seek the advice of a behavior therapist, an occupational therapist who specializes in driving, or a driver rehabilitation specialist who has training in working with individuals with special needs.
  • It’s also important to add driving goals to their child’s individualized education plan (IEP) and to follow up with school personnel.

More tips on determining readiness can be found at CHOP’s Center For Autism Research website.


For parents wishing to gauge their child’s interest in driving, upon request Academy360 Upper School offers its students a Drivers Ed class which focuses on introducing teens to the rules and theory of driving.

Class instructor and A360 US physical education teacher Sally Curci has extra insight into the subject – she’s also the parent of a teen with ASD who drives.

In the classroom, Sally’s goal is to make lessons as functional as possible, so even teens who ultimately decide against driving learn valuable skills.

“Most kids on the spectrum, if they’re moderate to high-functioning when it comes to technicalities, a lot of them have the skills to drive. But that’s really the least of it. The most important is being totally aware of their surroundings, being a defensive driver. To me that’s the ultimate challenge,” Sally says.

“My son does have his license. I encouraged him to do it because I wanted him to be as independent as possible. I’ve been through it,” Sally says. “But even if they never drive, learning the rules of the road increases their awareness as a passenger and as a pedestrian. They learn what to do in an emergency, they know how to cross the street.”

Understanding visual cues is a key part of driving, which Sally stresses in class.

“When I took my son out, he was totally aware of his surroundings at all times – probably more than I am! If a car comes up on the passenger side, he notices it. If there’s a bicyclist, he sees it,” Sally continues. “So that’s what I try to explain in class. You’re not driving just for yourself, you’re driving for everyone around you. We talk about using signals, how to communicate with other drivers, noticing brake lights. How to recognize movement in a parking lot – a car backing out might not notice you behind them. Even if they don’t drive, I’m teaching them life skills.”

A360 Upper School sends a letter to parents each school year about the driving course which is then offered based on interest. For more information, parents should contact Academy360 Upper School via our contact form.


Before seeking a license, some parents may wish to undertake teaching their teens the basics. When doing so it’s important to remember that many young adults on the spectrum struggle with the necessary driving skills: Social judgment and perspective-taking, physical coordination, attention span, multitasking and prioritizing are all necessary when driving. Another issue to consider is temperament. Teens with ASD who experience explosive outbursts will have to contend with car horns, sirens, offensive drivers, and other road hazards. Their ability to remain calm in these situations is something parents need to judge before and during teaching them to drive.

Tips from parents of drivers with autism:

  • Use practice and repetition
  • Break down skills into individual steps
  • Use video games and other driving simulation experiences
  • Use verbal and visual scripts prior to drives
  • Stay calm and patient

According to a study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, individuals with ASD may benefit from a slow and gradual approach to driver training, so give your teen – and yourself – time to master the rules of the road.


If you decide your child is ready, willing and competent to drive, the next step is completing license certification. To obtain a student driver permit in New Jersey, applicants must complete a 6-hour course with a licensed driving instructor. More information on this and other requirements can be found on the NJMVC website.


There are a number of websites with resources for parents of drivers with ASD. Here are a few to check out:

 Lisa Crouch is the Assistant to the Public Information Officer.  Prior to working at Spectrum360, she worked at Yahoo, MSN, The Bergen Record, and other media outlets.  She has a BA in English Literature from Columbia University.  She is the proud aunt of an Academy360 Lower School student. In her off time, Lisa is a digital artist and writer.