Wolf, Tyger, Bear and I have been presented with an awesome opportunity.
We’re moving back up to Scotland: to a lovely, big house.
The boys will have more space and more freedom, the dogs will have a huge garden to run round, we’ll breathe fresh air and be surrounded by green and quiet. As you’ve probably figured out, we’ll be rural.
Rural tends to equal poor public transport so an ongoing issue in my life has reared its head again.
I do not have a driving licence but within the next two months I’ll very much need one.
Maybe you’re wondering how I got to my thirties, had two kids but am still unable to drive.
Some teenagers seem to spend the first half of their teen years just waiting for their seventeenth birthday (or whatever age you can start driving depending on where you live, which is 1 here in the UK). They apply for their licence in advance and are ready and raring to go at dawn on their birthday. I was not one of those teenagers.
It’s not that I didn’t want the freedom and convenience driving brings, I just didn’t want the responsibility.
I convinced a boy in my class to use the big, standing belt sander thing for me when I had to make a spice rack at secondary school because the teacher had terrified me with all his warnings of getting hair or jewelry caught in it and accidentally sanding your face off. And cars are big, fast, metal death machines. I don’t know a single person who got their face sanded off at school but I do know a number of people who have been seriously injured – or worse – by vehicles on the road.
I do not want to be responsible for something so dangerous.
For frack’s sake, I still feel guilty about the stupidly fast spider I mangled when trying to catch it in a glass about a decade ago!
But, my dad set up lessons for me and it seemed churlish to refuse so I got on with it.
Aside from the terror I feel over the possibility of hitting someone, there are other ways in which I struggle with driving (and these days I’m aware of the probable cause being autism).
In case you’re wondering, you do not legally have to declare being autistic to the DVLA unless it affects your ability to drive safely. For most autistic people, the ways in which their driving is affected by their autism can be worked around or overcome with a supportive instructor.
My spatial awareness is…not great. I routinely walk into things (tables, beds, doors, etc.) and I constantly sport bruises of unknown origin. Having spoken to many other autistic people, this seems pretty standard. I also bump, knock and outright crash the buggy containing Bear with alarming frequency.
This is an issue when driving because I can’t tell which gaps the car will fit through. I don’t know when I’m driving too close to parked cars, which I do because I’m anxious about being too close to the opposite flow of traffic.
I also have a very poor sense of direction and memory of places. Thankfully, these days SatNav is widely used and the driving test here now includes a section where you have to drive following one. When I first started driving lessons as a teenager that was not the case. Having a good idea of roughly where you are, holding a map in your head, remembering you’ve been somewhere before so you know there are faded road markings coming up all help when you’re driving. They help to stop you from panicking, help to orientate yourself so you have some idea e.g. of whether you’re driving away from or towards a town centre, help you learn from past mistakes, help you prepare for what’s coming up. I don’t have any of that.
Processing verbal instructions can also be tricky for autistic people, especially if there’s a list of things to remember.
‘Pull in on the left here,’ is fine. I can hear that, process it and respond with minimal anxiety or problems.
‘We’re going to take the third exit at the next roundabout, which you need to be in the right hand lane for, then we’ll take a left and pull in somewhere past the pedestrian crossing,’ is not quite so easy. Chances are, by the time I’m in the correct lane on the roundabout I’ve completely forgotten the rest.
And that brings in another problematic element: the driving instructor. It can be intensely uncomfortable for autistic people to be in such close proximity to a stranger for so long. At the very least it can be extremely tiring and distracting being in a confined space with someone else for something that’s already stressful.
Finding a good driving instructor you feel comfortable with is important for anyone learning to drive but it’s doubly important if you’re autistic.
Some other potential issues around driving lessons when you’re autistic are: smells in the car (air fresheners etc.), sunlight in your eyes (again, something that can be problematic for anyone but more so for autistic people), difficulty multi-tasking, poor motor control and problems estimating speed.
However, the main reason I never actually took my driving test as a teen wasn’t any of those but because of yet another problem thrown up by me being autistic…
I should have taken my test before moving away for university but they were completely booked up (I probably didn’t try booking it early enough…executive functioning skills also being somewhat lacking in autistic individuals!) so I needed to have further lessons in Glasgow whilst at uni and take my test there.
Which involved phoning up to book lessons.
I do not cope well with having to make phone calls (I’ve written about it before) so after one stressful attempt, I gave up on the entire thing.
This time round things were a little easier given a) social media makes phone calls less necessary and b) I know a lot of people who can drive and who are autism aware and managed to get a recommendation for a suitable driving instructor who is happy to communicate via messaging.
My current instructor is aware of many of my autism-related issues and we’re working around them. It still looks to me like I’m going to crash into oncoming traffic sometimes but I’m better able to judge when that’s poor spatial awareness and I haven’t clipped the wing mirror when I panic and veer in towards parked cars in weeks (to be fair, that only happened one time…).
So, 14 years after I first started lessons I’m hoping to finally sit my driving test soon. It’s currently booked for a few days before the moving van!
Wish me luck.