There are so many reasons that I probably shouldn’t be allowed to drive. Out of the many Aspergian talents I have read about, I am yet to read about a savant driver with Asperger’s. This is because driving was not designed with the Aspies in mind. Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that driving is a very social process with extreme unpredictability and a necessity to trust blindly. The most disabling symptom is probably the least-known: we tend to not have depth perceptions.
This was not something I discovered until conducting research about Asperger’s. During my studies I came across something called the Irlen method, a treatment involving tinted lenses for light sensitivity that has also shown improvement in depth perception in people with ASD and related disorders. In reading the reviews for the product, I noticed a man said something along the lines of “before I got Irlen lenses everything looked like a painting.” My initial thought was, “What is everything supposed to look like?” I have always had a very hard time judging distances, a concept that was made painfully clear during my childhood, when I could barely get out of a chair without falling on my face. Although getting glasses helped to make things clearer, I still have the same issues. I cannot tell left from right to this day (also not helpful when driving) and still trip occasionally over surprise inclines.
When driving, this deficiency presents itself most obviously when trying to navigate anywhere. The words “Turn right in 500 feet” mean next-to-nothing to me. Despite practicing driving on the same route every weekend for two months, I still could not navigate without help from my father in the passenger seat.
I’ll let you all release a sigh of release now by letting you know that this is the reason I limit myself to a 3-mile radius from my house without a parent driving with me. Highways prove to be a highly overwhelming experience due to the high speeds and flashing signs on their own, but when I also have to keep lane changes in mind and keep track of my exits, navigation without panic proves to be impossible.
Driving at night has its own sets of complications too, as light sensitivity makes the contrast of the glaring headlights against the night sky unbearable. I frequently find myself momentarily blinded by the lights of other cars and therefore try to limit my time outside at night. I have found that watching the white lines on the edge of the road help me to stay on track and that there is no shame in flashing my lights to ensure that all upcoming high beams are switched off.
There is a wide range of success levels in people with Asperger’s Syndrome who experiment with driving. I have met people who have stopped driving altogether because of frequent accidents and people who are some of the safest drivers I know. The abilities depend most on the person’s severity of symptoms and their ability to understand themselves and their challenges. Once they understand what is different about them they can develop coping techniques that can ultimately decide the difference between cruising down the highway and taking the bus. The most important piece of advice I have for aspiring drivers is to take it slowly and not set expectations too high. Never think that you have to do anything more than you are comfortable doing, because by driving you are taking a risk, and risks should never be riskier than necessary, especially when your life is involved.