Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Driving with Autism

03/18/2017 | Published by: Becky Tarwater

Driving is a rite of passage for many of our youth. All parents worry about our teens and young adults driving, but for parents of teens and young adults with certain communication disabilities, we also worry our child might not be able to make themselves understood during traffic stops or other stressful driving situations.

Jennifer Allen, founder of Aspergers 101, is the mom to Sam. Sam has high-functioning autism. When Sam began driving, Jennifer worried about Sam’s ability to communicate with police if he were in a stressful situation, such as an accident or a traffic stop. 

Jennifer set out to find a way to help Sam and other drivers with communication disabilities. 

This led her to create the statewide “Driving with Autism” initiative in Texas. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities participated in developing these programs.

The first part of the program is the driver’s license restriction code. 

This code provides a “Communication Impediment” notice on Texas driver’s licenses and ID cards. To receive this code, a doctor must first complete a form with the type of communication challenge. The driver then goes to a DPS office to fill out a driver’s license form. This code might be helpful for persons with autism, deafness, Down syndrome, brain injury, or other challenges. 

The second part of this program is training. 

Jennifer provides live training for Texas DPS Trooper Recruits. These trainings give officers tools to address the needs of drivers with communication issues. She is also producing a video training series with the help of DPS. These videos will be available to law officers in Texas. 

The third part of the program is “Driving with Autism” camps. 

These camps take place at the DPS Training Center in Florence, Texas. Drivers are teamed with DPS officers. They have classroom instruction and driving practice on the DPS driving course. Camp attendees roleplay different scenarios. The roleplaying helps them prepare for life as good drivers.

All three of these programs aim to make driving with a communication impairment safer and less stressful. 

Jennifer’s son, Sam, shared, “The ability for me to drive is a stepping stone toward a life of independence…” 

He feels more ready to meet daily driving challenges. While not everyone will choose to become drivers, these programs offer ways to improve safety for those with communication challenges.

Jennifer hopes to see these tools expand to other states throughout the country. She’s proud that Texas took a leading role in “Driving with Autism.” 

Visit the Aspergers101 website for more information.

Visit the Transitioning to Adulthood section of this website for more helpful tips and resources. 

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