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I want to talk about driving from the perspective of a special-ism individual. It’s a topic that often comes up; the one my friends lovingly tease me about. I will give some overall advice to parents with ism-kids who are going to be hitting the road soon.

Before You Can Drive
Where you live will influence how soon you can start driving. A few months before you turn the designated driving age, you can begin the prerequisites for getting a permit or license. In Florida, at 15, you can get a permit. When I got mine I had to take a drug/alcohol course online (I was able to take it as early as six months before my 15th birthday) and a road rules and signs test that required reading the Florida Handbook. I then showed up to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and got my picture taken and received a driver’s permit.

What scares most parents of new drivers is the realization that their child can easily get permission from the government to start learning how to drive. Kids can know absolutely nothing other than a couple of pictures and laws and common sense drug and alcohol abuse, and then be able to get behind the wheel.

Tips for New Drivers and Parents
Here are some simple tips for new drivers and parents:

  1. Choose a car in your family you would be comfortable with your kids learning on. If it’s the family SUV, so be it. If it’s a sports car, so be it. This is a decision you will want to make, and as you know every car has a different learning curve and different instructions to go along with it. I recommend starting with an automatic transmission to ease the learning curve a little bit. (I still don’t know how to drive a stick shift if that’s any relief to you all.) If there’s a car you don’t have but would prefer your child to learn on, you could always get a reputable used car or a brand new car. Just decide what is best for you and your family.
  2. If you’re teaching your child to drive, my best advice to you is not to teach in your driveway or your neighborhood, but somewhere “easy”. On a Sunday morning my dad went to a large, corporate parking lot with no headstones to mark spots. Nobody was there on a Sunday except for one security car, and they didn’t seem to mind that I was learning to drive. I didn’t learn to park right away, just how to put the car in park, reverse, drive, use the brakes, the gas, etc. I learned how to do U-Turns and other things in that parking lot, and there was a backstreet for some “road experience”, too.
  3. If you, as a parent, don’t feel comfortable teaching your child to drive, find a good driver’s ed program or lessons. I did driver’s ed too. A local company had drivers teach in cars with a brake pedal on the passenger side. The instructor was understanding, helped eliminate distractions, and did things my dad didn’t feel comfortable teaching me right away, such as driving on the interstate. Completing a certain amount of lessons and receiving a certificate, qualified me for insurance discounts.
  4. Set a good example! I know this seems very obvious, but do not set an example that your kids shouldn’t be following. If your other kids text and drive, don’t let that slide. If you text and drive, stop doing it.  I know more teenagers and young people who got into accidents because of Instagram, texting, Twitter and Facebook than anything else. Do not drive drunk. All that stuff. Make sure to drive the way you want your kids to drive – focused and defensive.
  5. Build confidence! This seems like another easy one, but it is the best thing you can do. If your kids are driving properly, make sure they know! Confidence should be building as your child continues driving. It was the hardest thing for me personally, since when I did finally get my license at age 17 (I know, I waited), I was feeling confident enough to go out by myself with no extra directions. I managed just fine alone when I went to meet the wonderful folks at Project Lifesaver for lunch (shout-out, but true story!). I’m not afraid to go out. If you’re afraid for your kids, just tell them to do what my friend’s mom and my mom make me do – tell them to call or text you when they safely arrive at their destination, even if they just say “I’m here” and hang up. It will give you, the parent, the confidence as well as your kids so everyone feels at ease.

Driving is never an easy thing and it is a big step, but remember to stay safe, avoid distractions, stay confident, and set good examples!