The Impact Of Driving On Life Quality




cartoon illustration of teenage driver with license in a car with mother outside carr

Guest Authors: Andrew Arboe and Joshua Fishkind
Being able to drive a car is often seen as a milestone, yet the full impact it can have on an individual’s quality of life is commonly under-discussed. Obtaining a license can help an individual advance in their career and social life, because of the increased mobility, flexibility, and access it provides. It should not be underestimated how life-changing driving can be for individuals, regardless of disability status. Unfortunately, driving may not be as readily discussed with neurodiverse individuals, including autistic individuals and those with anxiety disorders. Neglecting the conversation around driving is a missed opportunity, considering that a driver’s license can be the difference between being dependent and independent for many individuals.

In fact, driving is considered a core part of understanding the need. For example, without the ability to drive, can an individual easily commute to their job? Without driving, can an individual fulfill all responsibilities of their job, or do they need to change careers to have a remote job? If the individual cannot drive, do they need in-home support services, as opposed to community-based services that are further away? Without the ability to drive, does the individual have access to sufficient social activities and outings, or are they limited to certain destinations? And would the ability to drive improve their ability to work and earn a steady income, obtain greater access to necessary supports and services, and socialize with friends and family, while also exploring new social settings?

Incorporating driving goals into a life care plan is a great way to guide a loved one toward obtaining a license. The care plan should include current driving skills and goals and set a plan for strengthening those skills, or accomplishing goals, in a way that is sensitive to unique learning styles, strengths, and challenges. Utilizing the plan, your circle of support, which may include professionals as well as friends and family, can support goal attainment in many areas of life, including driving.

Employment Opportunities

It is no secret that the type of employment an individual chooses can impact what transportation style they may need to utilize. Depending on the job and the location, an individual may be able to rely on public transportation or walking; however, there are many instances in which driving is a necessity for career success. For example, if an individual wishes to be a social worker, who travels around a city or state for their work, they will need the independence driving provides to meet all job responsibilities and requirements. While some jobs do not require long commutes, such as jobs in large cities or remote work, driving may be unavoidable depending on an individual’s circumstances and location. In fact, for most individuals living in rural areas, public transportation is either unavailable, unreliable, or inaccessible, which increases their need for a driver’s license.

Obtaining a license can also help to alleviate worries related to perpetual unemployment and social isolation, because driving makes it possible to commute and can even shorten the commuting time, compared with public transportation, thus freeing up more time for individuals to socialize and work. Being able to drive is incredibly liberating for these reasons: driving increases independence, earning potential, socialization skills, confidence, and overall quality of life. One of the first hurdles individuals face in increasing their work opportunities and income, is reliable transportation and a valid driver’s license, making driving a cornerstone of many care plans.

Recreational Activities & Socialization

Aside from the employment-related benefits of driving, obtaining a license also improves an individual’s quality of life through greater access to socialization. Regardless of disability type, healthy socialization is a critical component of overall wellness. For in-person socialization, driving is necessary to be able to go out and explore various social settings like town centers, events, restaurants, and live shows. Without a license, individuals are less likely to travel far because of the limitations of relying on public transportation, ride-share services, or friends and family members who have their own responsibilities and time commitments. And if an individual has a limited income, social travel becomes even more difficult and unlikely. Being unable to engage with the community and attend social events on a greater level, can create additional internal barriers that hamper the ability to get a driver’s license, and can weaken an individual’s social skills and thus worsen their quality of life. Frequent and regular access to socialization can help individuals learn new skills, create core memories with friends and family, and provide a purpose and intention to daily life.

Viewing driving as a facilitator of social development and personal growth and considering the nuances and different needs of individuals when learning to drive, it is incredibly important to discuss and include driving in an individual’s care plan (if that is something that they desire). With the ability to drive, an individual’s life care plan can also be subject to change. For example, if an individual can drive, they may be able to expand or change their support network or add new physicians or social groups that may be located further away from where they currently reside. Having the ability to access a digital life care plan also helps to ensure that such changes to the plan can be made quickly, keeping the life care plan up to date. A life care plan can also be used to keep track of all appointments and events that the individual would like to attend, helping them to also learn and practice time management skills. A life care plan can also be updated to include driving goals, including working on challenging skills, such as making left turns or driving on the highway, or even learning how to drive with or without relying on a GPS.

Driving Programs

If an individual is interested in learning how to drive, one of the best places to start is to find a driving program that teaches fundamental driving skills, driver safety, and the financial aspect of driving, which includes insurance, maintenance, budgeting for gas, and vehicle modifications. Enrolling in such a driving program is one of the best ways to help a new driver gain confidence, and to target and work on any internal or external barriers they may have to driving.

These programs are structured to go over driving concepts in a classroom setting prior to beginning on-road practice. The road lessons themselves can be self-paced and be based on the individual’s experience and comfort level. Completing driving programs can also provide access to insurance discounts and other driving resources, including refresher courses and information about driver safety and handling unexpected issues.

It is also important to consider whether the individual would benefit from enrolling in specialized programs, such as those designed for neurodiverse individuals, and working with disability driving instructors and trained therapists, who can help tailor the driving lessons specifically for the individual. Such specialized programs may include adaptive services, clinical assessments, more intensive one-on-one services, and access to certified rehab specialists who are trained to work with individuals with disabilities. A life care plan can help organize information about the driver’s program and help set clear goals to work on with the program’s specialists. An individual can easily update or change their goals to meet their needs and comfort level, having the ability to modify the life care plan easily through a digital plan. The flexibility of the program and the care plan may also help the individual feel more secure and supported in their endeavor to obtain a driver’s license, and the related independence it can provide.

All in all, a driver’s license can be the line between independence and dependence. Having a license can invite an individual into many opportunities in the realm of employment and social activities. It is for this reason that these discussions should be held for individuals who want to drive. We want individuals to be able to take charge of their lives with as many choices as possible. If driving is realistic for that individual and it allows for someone to get to appointments, school, and work, it should be explored. Using a digital life care plan to achieve such driving-related goals is a great way to evaluate why an individual wants to drive, what driving could help them with, and what supports they may need along the way to obtaining a driver’s license.

Contact Hope Trust for special needs life care planning and management.
Contact Driving With Autism for autism-centered virtual education driving school training.

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