A new study from Drexel University and the Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that young people with autism are capable of safely operating a motor vehicle — with gradual practice.
Led by Kristina Patrick, PhD, an alumna of Drexel University’s Clinical Psychology doctoral program, the study looked at 100 participants, ages 16 to 26. Of the 100 young people, half had autism and half did not; 14 percent had their driver’s licenses.
The group participated in a series of tests using a virtual reality driving simulator in the Applied Neuro-Technologies Lab at Drexel. Simulations progressed from simple tasks, like driving on rural roads, to more complex tasks, like changing speeds or carrying on a conversation while driving.
While both groups mastered the basic tasks, the unlicensed drivers with autism had more difficulty maintaining speed and staying in their lane as the scenarios became more complex.
However, there was no difference in performance between the participants — with and without autism — who had their driver’s licenses.
The study concluded that, while young people with autism may take more time to get the hang of driving, they are capable of driving at the same skill level of neurologically typical individuals, with extended practice.