Teens with autism spectrum disorders getting driver’s licenses

Getting a driver’s license is a rite of passage for most American teens. For the first time, a landmark study looked at driver’s licenses in teens with autism spectrum disorders.

Researcher’s from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have determined that teens with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are receiving learner’s permits and going to get driver’s licenses.

teenage girl behind wheel, looking in rearview mirrorPrincipal investigator Allison E. Curry, PhD, MPH, commented in a press release, “We know that driving can increase mobility and independence for adolescents with ASD, but little was known about their rates of licensure. Our results indicate that a substantial proportion of adolescents with ASD do get licensed, and support is needed to help families make the decision whether or not to drive before these adolescents become eligible for a learner’s permit.”

Dr. Curry is a senior scientist at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP.

Autism is a development disability that can affect intellectual capacity, decision-making, attention span and other cognitive functions. Approximately one in 68 adolescents are estimated to have ASD; two thirds of those teens don’t have intellectual disabilities.

New Jersey has a Graduated Licensing system. Adolescents first receive a learner’s permit and can then advance to an intermediate license after they gain driving experience. A driver with an intermediate license cannot drive between 11 PM and 5 AM, and can only have one non-family member passenger in the car.

Dr. Curry and colleagues found that one in three of New Jersey teens gets a driver’s license, most in their 17th year. Although the teens with ASD tended to obtain an intermediate license about nine months later than adolescents without ASD, close to 90 percent of the teens with ASD had an intermediate license within two years. Almost 98 percent of teens without ASD had an intermediate license within two years.

Automobile accidents are the top cause of death in adolescents, so the investigators commented that if teens with ASD are going to drive, doctors and educators should think about ways to help promote safe driving.

Co-author Benjamin Yerys, PhD, commented in a press release, “ASD can affect decision-making, information processing and attention to varying degrees, and we need to understand what resources, specialized instruction, and other supports might be helpful for teens and adults with ASD who are considering or preparing to drive.”

The study was published in the April issue of Autism.

Funding for the study was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health.

Information on conflict of interest was not available.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “One in three teens with autism spectrum disorder receives driver’s license”