dear autistic followers/people in the tag
do you drive and if so are there particular things you have difficulty with and if not is there anything about it other than age/lack of necessity that’s preventing it
for the most part driving is pretty much like playing mario cart.
i don’t have too many problems with it but i prefer not to due to problems with my vision (nothing that would endager me, but enough to not be the first to volunteer to drive if i don’t have to). i think it is a good skill to have though.
my biggest problem is parking. :/
So…this reply got me thinking.
I thought driving would be fairly easy for me, given how decent I am at games like Mario Kart. And…well…it turned out that I was quite terrible at being able to drive an actual car, for a variety of reasons.
And thinking back, there are two very significant differences between Mario Kart and driving an actual car that I didn’t consider.
Everything in Mario Kart can be done with one hand for steering and powerups, and another for acceleration and braking. That’s it. That’s all.
Driving an actual car, however, is much more challenging control-wise.
Aside from the gas pedal and brakes being foot-controlled rather than hand-controlled, there’s also the issue of the steering wheel. I never could get the hang of hand-over-hand turns, which is what all the instructors recommended for sharp turns when I was learning, and always found it easier to do the ‘push-pull’ approach, which they said was bad if not dangerous. (Apparently the latter is actually the recommended approach now…interesting.)
I sort of wonder whether I would have had better luck driving a car with joystick-based controls, or with hand controls for the brake and gas, but I never actually got a chance to try it. I would not be surprised if this would have actually helped, though, given how much better I was at racing games on consoles (using a joystick) than in arcades (using traditional car controls).
Another thing that I always found helpful in Mario Kart was the fact that the camera was located outside the car. Same thing with other games like the old Daytona arcade game: it was possible to position the camera directly above and behind the car. This allowed me to easily judge when another car was coming too close to me or vice versa.
In a real car, of course, this perspective is not an option. And no matter how I adjusted my seats and mirrors, I never managed to get a similar intuitive feel for where things were relative to the car, even after years and years of practicing.
Edited to add: Was just reminded of another dissimilarity thanks to youneedacat’s reply:
3. Complexity of the world.
Complexity in terms of both the environment itself, and the other individuals sharing the road.
In racing video games, the world itself tends to be relatively ‘no-frills’, without a lot of irrelevant things to distract from the race. (Sure, there’s the occasional Funny Background Event, but it’s easy enough to ignore and clearly something that’s in the background.) When there are random distractions or things that will interfere with the drive, it’s either in a set place on the track, or there’s some sort of clear warning to get your attention (blue Koopa shell, anyone?)
Driving in the real world, on the other hand, feels more like a ‘bullet-hell’ shoot-em-up to me, with things coming at you from every direction. But not one of the nice ones where all the fire patterns are nice and orderly despite their over-the-top-ness. It’s more like one of the ones where you can’t easily predict the paths and have to constantly be dodging things coming at you. And not just that, it’s one of those games where, out of nowhere, the screen randomly distorts or adds some incredibly distracting animation to make the paths even harder to identify. Oh, and the powerups are indistinguishable from enemy fire unless you’re paying really close attention.
…yeah, this metaphor has gotten out of hand. But you get the idea.
Disabled in Atlanta: All Other Things Being Equal
I can see myself living in Atlanta long-term. There are still a few crumbling Victorians in Grant Park to restore. The city would be a workable home whether I stay single or have a family. There is room for me to keep a large dog. The parts I see are endearingly unkempt. Food and music are everywhere. Locals are nice except behind the wheel. If I stay, I will always miss the dark months, long nights, snow. However, a new, inexplicable love of cars makes me appreciate mild winters, unsalted roads.
Wheels are the crux of it. As I rumbled down Moreland in one of the long, venerable, American sedans trawling the surface streets on a recent morning, autistics stuck in the no-man’s-land between help and self-sufficiency were still on my mind. Something occurred to me: all other things being equal, I would probably not consider making a life here feasible if I was uncomfortable handling a car. A recent article in Creative Loafing notwithstanding, I doubt I would want my workplace determined by proximity to a faltering public transit system. If I had too much trouble with visual-spatial issues to drive, cycling might not be a viable alternative.
Thoughts like these worry me. Most of the people The Arc of Georgia serves, many autistics, and large swaths of the wider disability community cannot drive. If I fell into that category, even if everything else about me were the same, I would have fewer choices. Whether people in this position stay, accept Atlanta lite, or go is their personal preference. Either way, they loose out on the opportunities I have.
The pathetic transportation planning in Georgia is one of the reasons I’m actually sort of glad that I—a Georgia native who’d lived in the state for twenty-nine years—moved all the way out to the metro Boston area when offered a job there.
And I’m absolutely loving it here in comparison.
Sure, the MBTA has its own share of issues. The Green Line seems to never run on schedule (and you’ll have eight other trains pass you by before you ever see the branch that you need). And sometimes my bus to work runs 15-20 minutes late, not unlike the routes I rode regularly back in the Peach State. (To be fair, they do have one thing in their favor: they run a lot more often than the ones where I lived in Georgia, which makes things like grocery trips much easier to handle in comparison.)
But even aside from transit, the environment up here just feels more amenable to non-drivers. Sort of like Midtown Atlanta writ large, even once you get beyond the core of the city into the inner suburbs like Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, and my new home, Arlington. Everything’s much more compact, with much more that one can walk to; other than a few highways here and there, the roads typically have sidewalks that are relatively continuous, and crosswalks that aren’t spaced a mile apart.
On the other hand, I can’t deny that there are pedestrian-unfriendly suburbs around here as well. Heck, I work in one of them (Burlington). It’s not all that different from what I saw around, say, Marietta or Duluth: a sprawly place that straddles the perimeter highway, with a huge mall right there in the middle. (If you’ve seen Paul Blart: Mall Cop, you’ve seen the Burlington Mall. Yes, it really does have a Rainforest Cafe inside.) And I would not walk on many of the streets in Burlington if my life depended on it— there’s one highway, in particular, that has a lot of awesome-looking stores on it, but that looks like an absolute death trap for pedestrians.
But even then, Burlington has something going for it that none of the Atlanta suburbs with such a heavy info-tech sprawl seemed to have. Namely: the city buses actually run to Burlington, or at least parts thereof. My trip to and from work every day is covered on the same monthly transit pass that covers all the rest of metro Boston. And even for the suburbs further out that are served by their own private bus companies, the MBTA’s web site offers very readable schedules and maps that are far more easily readable than anything I saw for the Atlanta suburbs.
Oh, yes, and another thing. People actually give directions to places by means of rail lines and bus routes. Prominently, even. I rarely, if ever, remember seeing that to any significant degree in Georgia, except for major tourist hot spots. (And even then, it wasn’t a guarantee.)
I want this to be a city that takes care of its own, especially people who are vulnerable to marginalization. I want us to make room for people with disabilities, the poor, and our own grandparents. That means alternatives to cars. I want to be able to tell people I live in an inclusive community, not one whose criteria for full membership is so arbitrary. If age or injury takes my ability to make decisions at our outrageous road speeds, I want options. The transit issue bubbled up and simmered down late this past summer with these people barely mentioned. I remember one article on people for whom MARTA is a necessity. The rest of the discussion only acknowledged the young, cool, car-free by choice. I almost understand that. Despite personal distaste for hipsters, I would welcome them if they brought tax dollars. Our schools, water system, anti-homelessness efforts, and roads need them.
This is something else I never understood: people’s absolute ignorance of the experience of non-drivers—especially, those who were non-drivers not by choice, but by necessity.
People can’t even imagine what it’s like to live without a car—or, for that matter, how utterly fatal the roads they’ve built are for pedestrians—and yet, this was something I experienced every week, if not every day, of my life.
I got asked why I didn’t drive on a fairly regular basis, like it really was just some choice I was making. (And really, I totally would’ve driven if I could have! It’s just that I was so terrible at it, on all the occasions when I practiced, that I did not trust myself even remotely behind the wheel of a car alone. My horrible sense of distance and space, my tendency to go into a state of sensory overload and not notice things that were right in front of me… yeah, I had far too many close calls to feel anywhere close to safe without a passenger there at all times.)
And yet I’m the one who was said to lack empathy…
You read that right. I enjoy all sixteen plus feet and six cylinders of my car. I love driving. My interest in our collective prosperity is that I want surface streets repaved for the sake of my white wall tires. However, I recognize that these are not everyone’s concerns. There are needs besides mine. Excluding people from full life in the community because they cannot manage multiple tons of steel moving at speeds nature did not prepare us to attain is wrong. It is ridiculous. It harms the people it limits. It harms everyone else by reducing their ability to contribute. During our last conversation about public transportation, no one talked about people who need it. Our silence is a disconcerting statement on our values. I hope we start talking again. All other things being equal, I would probably leave if I could not drive. Is anyone else who can drive consciously aware of this dependence? Are non-drivers so invisible that most Atlantans cannot imagine themselves in that position? This is a moral issue touching on equality, fairness, inclusion, empathy, and compassion. Does anyone else see that?
Sadly, based on my experiences in Georgia… non-drivers really are that invisible to drivers.
People didn’t even realize, when I brought it up to them while I was at UGA, that there were some major roads in Athens where there was a three-mile span between places that one could safely cross the street.
People didn’t realize that I was forced to walk in the shoulder, or even the gutter, on many of the most traveled roads in town, because there wasn’t even a sidewalk.
People didn’t realize the ridiculousness of being forced to walk through a football-field-sized parking lot with barely any clear traffic patterns just to get to a store’s front door from the bus stop. Nor did people realize that some of the up-and-coming parts of town were around a three-mile walk from the nearest bus stop.
And it’s not like I didn’t try to assert my existence every day by just walking on these roads. But drivers, more often than not, would just as soon have run me over as noticed I was there, just trying my best to get to the other side.
I can’t figure out how to drive. I feel like this makes me a worthless person. Any other non-driving aspies want to commiserate?
I can’t drive either. Too terrified to get my license even though I’m 18 in 2 weeks
I’m autistic and can’t drive.
I did (somehow?) get my driver’s license five years ago, but driving in a car other than the kind that driving schools have (with a passenger-side brake pedal) makes me panic, I can’t hold onto the skills for how to drive for very long (so I haven’t driven in five years), and I can never look in all the places I’m supposed to look. :(
I’m also 18 in about two weeks, also an aspie, and also pretty much incapable of driving. I’ve been trying on and off for two years and I plan to keep trying to see if I can get it, but I highly doubt I ever will.
I can do it (poorly) for only about 15 minutes before I become extremely fatigued as a result of sensory overload. Too many things to keep track of- gas pressure, mirrors, how to move the wheel. It’s overwhelming for me to say the absolute least.
omg yes me too. Driving is basically just sensory overload. My eyes hurt within a few minutes.
I never got my license pretty much because of that.
This is exactly what driving was like for me as well.
I could manage to pull it off for…a few minutes. Though it was ridiculously difficult, because my sense of distance and speed were consistently awful, no matter how much practice I got in. It took all the effort in the world just to stay within the lane, stay a safe distance behind the cars in front of me, and keep a speed that wasn’t wildly fluctuating.
And then after 15-20 minutes? I started missing stuff that was right in front of me. And would end up nearly hitting another car (glad that I was required to have a passenger with my learner’s permit to alert me to it, because I would have hit it otherwise…), or running through a stop light. Things like that… because I didn’t even notice they were there. It’s like I was in such a state of sensory overload that my brain started filtering out things that were actually important.
I can’t figure out how to drive. I feel like this makes me a worthless person. Any other non-driving aspies want to commiserate?
This is part of why I ended up accepting a job in the Boston area.
Because it’s actually possible to get around and do stuff here without a car. Unlike in small-town Georgia, where it really was a hindrance to be unable to drive.
I’ve been thinking about my problems with driving, thanks to this thread. And the more I think about it… the more I realize that pretty much everything that gives me difficulty with driving, to the point of not trusting myself enough to have a license at age 29, is perceptual. And, even more specifically, a large part of it is due to spatial perception.
Basically, a lot of the perceptual things that are automatic for most people… for me, they aren’t.
One thing that’s a constant issue for me is maintaining a constant speed. Honestly, I can get a better feel for that from the sound of the engine than I can from any visual feedback…except when I’m going up and down hills and gravity affects the speed, in which case I’m hopeless. In general, it’s so unreliable that I just have to keep glancing down at the speedometer…which, in turn, distracts my attention from what’s happening on the road.
Another problem is judging the boundaries of the car. First off, I’m terrible at judging the boundaries of my own body; I misjudge and bump into stuff on a fairly regular basis when I’m walking. But add having to estimate the boundaries of the car to that as well, and I’m even worse off. I basically have to constantly compare things against a reference point that I can see within the car; otherwise, I largely have no idea where things are relative to the car. And even if I do have a reference point, I still have to constantly remind myself that it’s not where it looks like it is— for some reason, the perspective from within the car seriously throws me off in judging where things are located.
And that’s not even getting into the other perceptual stuff that’s not purely spatial. In particular, I’ve noticed that my visual processing has a tendency to get very fragmented, especially when I’m under stress— this post from feliscorvus is a pretty good approximation of how things often get for me. Needless to say… yeah, that makes it even harder to figure out where cars are on the road. When the cars sort of get disconnected from the road in my perception of things? Yeah, that’s…really not good for judging where they are.
Repeat after me: autism is not a “social disability”
Let me tell you about how I had full-blown meltdowns for the first time in years when I was 15/16 because of trying to learn to drive, and how I ended up being medicated for a significant amount of time because of those meltdowns. And then I suggest that perhaps autism played a part in my difficulties learning to drive, and my mom was surprised. Lolwut.
I actually can drive fairly well now, and am comfortable driving both in the US and Australia (where they do everything wrong), but it’s exhausting and I strongly prefer small cars since my sense of where they start and stop is not stellar.
Yeah, same here. Pretty much every accident I’ve ever caused has been because I didn’t know where my vehicle began and ended.
GAH! That was another issue of mine: judging the boundaries of the car. I have a hard enough time judging the boundaries just of my own body (see also, how many times I manage to misjudge it and bump into stuff), but throw a car into the mixture as well and I’m really hopeless. (I might possibly have better luck in one of those Smart cars, but I’ve never really tried it to find out…)
Fun story time! You know how everyone gives the bit of advice about just looking toward the center of the lane, and how that’ll keep the car centered? That never worked for me. What it did for me was made me center myself in the lane…which meant that 1/3 of the car was sticking out into the shoulder or the next lane over. Not good.
It seriously felt like it took half my concentration just to judge where my car was relative to the lane and keep it centered. And then…oh, another quarter or so of my concentration to try to maintain a constant speed, because I was terrible at that too, especially in hilly areas. No wonder it was so exhausting… do normal people just perceive this stuff automatically or something?
Repeat after me: autism is not a “social disability”
And propagating the idea that autistic impairments are essentially “social” in nature does damage to us.
This article, unsurprisingly, manages to marginalize autistic people and completely miss what our actual difficulties with driving often are.
Hint: The problem isn’t “literal thinking” or “understanding social cues” or any of that nonsense.
Try differences with sensory processing and motor movements which can include having difficulty judging where things are in physical space, etc. That is a hell of a lot more relevant to driving than “understanding social cues”!
Anxiety and AD/HD-type issues also play a major role for some of us.
When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when autism is seen only as a “social disability,” the real issues that we face get overlooked in the face of nonsense.
I would love to see programs to help autistics—and I don’t mean just teenagers—learn how to drive safely and effectively, but so long as the “experts” who are supposed to be “helping” us don’t understand us, that doesn’t seem particularly useful.
As someone who’s tried several times to learn to drive, but never really gotten to the point where I felt remotely good at it? SO MUCH YES.
My issues with driving were never with reading other people’s signals. I was…actually pretty good at that, when my sensory processing was clear enough to process those signals. (And when people actually made those signals, rather than making a hard turn out of absolutely nowhere or repeatedly forgetting to use that little lever next to the steering wheel…)
No, my issues were sheer sensory overload. Too much going on. Too much to keep track of at once. Having someone talking made it worse, as did having music playing. And even when my brain didn’t randomly shut down from having too much input to deal with, my spatial perception was absolutely pathetic— I’m poor enough at judging distances that there are places it’s unsafe for me to even walk due to the unpredictable traffic. (Curiously, I can hear the distance of cars much better than I can see it…and yet I have trouble processing speech. It’s like the verbal and non-verbal wires in my brain got crossed somehow, so I’m better with written language and non-verbal audio.)
But I digress. Yeah, I’m so glad I could get out of the pedestrian-unfriendly mess that is small-town Georgia and move to Boston, a place with a decent transit system. And yet, nobody ever really looks at that as something that would help autistic people!
Why couldn’t I have been one of those types of autistics with amazing visual-spatial skills? And instead I’m the sort whose visual processing is so dodgy that driving is dangerous, and whose sense of direction rivals that of Ryoga Hibiki?
People generally don’t bat an eye at someone who has difficulty programming a computer. But someone who can’t drive at age 28? That’s an oddity.
I’ve consistently felt irritated by the fact that transportation is one of the very few places where I really do feel like I’m actually disabled by my condition. Particularly problematic in my case is that good alternative transportation is pretty much exclusive to big cities, and between big cities; if you’re living in a smaller town, you need to get to a smaller town, or both (as has often been the case with me!), you’re at a tremendous disadvantage if you can’t drive safely. Especially if you don’t know that many people who can actually provide rides.
And the other thing that irritates me: that when I tell people I know it’s burdensome to beg for transportation from them and that I wish I could find alternatives, somehow this indicates that I’m unempathetic. Which I still don’t quite understand.