A release from Drexel University reports on the he first pilot study asking adults on the autism spectrum about their experiences with driving.
Only a few previous studies have examined driving ability in individuals with autism, and those studies focused on adolescents and new drivers rather than experienced adult drivers. These studies relied on parent surveys and evaluations of discrete aspects of driving performance. The new Drexel study, published early online this month in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, used a validated survey that has been extensively used in driving research, and asked adult licensed drivers on the autism spectrum to describe their first-hand, real-world driving experiences.
“We were beginning to see discussion in the research literature that aspects of autism spectrum disorders, such as neurocognitive challenges and social recognition difficulties, could make it likely that members of this population would experience significant challenges with driving,” said the study’s lead author Brian Daly, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences. “But that assumption hadn’t been studied in adult drivers, or based on the experiences of the drivers themselves – so these were the questions we explored.”
In this survey, adults with autism spectrum disorders reported earning their drivers’ licenses at a later age, driving less frequently and putting more restrictions on their own driving behaviors (such as avoiding driving on highways or at night), on average compared to non-autistic adults. The respondents with autism spectrum disorders also reported more traffic violations.
One intriguing finding that Daly and Schultheis noted was that the difficulties adults with autism reported were not clustered in any specific areas, such as problems related to social processing of other drivers’ or pedestrians’ expected behaviors, or difficulties with neurocognitive aspects of driving such as motion perception and reaction time.
“It suggests that the challenges these individuals are facing are more global than specific,” Daly said.
“This is such an important study,” said Paul Shattuck, PhD, an associate professor and director of the research program area in life course outcomes at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, who was not involved in conducting the study. “Cognitively-able adults on the autism spectrum face many barriers to full participation in society. Facilitating access to transportation options will increase the capacity for these adults to contribute to their communities.”
Daly and Schultheis are continuing to investigate driving behavior in adults with autism through further research, with funding from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, the first autism research center focused on a public health science approach. In the next phase of research, the team is using driving simulation in Schultheis’ lab to objectively capture aspects of actual driving performance in adults on the autism spectrum. Individuals interested in enrolling in these studies should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.