By John Counsel
I have experience of trying to teach a total of five Aspie offspring to drive. They learned to drive in unexpected chronological order. Some took excruciatingly longer learning times than others.
Let me explain…
Child #1, a girl, announced at age 15 that the day she turned 17 (the minimum age for learner-drivers in those days) she would obtain her Learner’s Permit and the day she turned 18, she would qualify for her Probationary License. No questions or doubts permitted. These were incontrovertible, unassailable FACTS.
Child #2, a boy two years younger, obtained his Learner’s Permit when he turned 17 and his Probationary License when he turned 18. No impressive announcements, no fuss or fanfare.
Child #2 learned to drive, initially, in our family people-mover (we had all five of our Aspie children by this time). After months of traumatic (for me) on-road experiences, I told him he needed to find a professional driving instructor to complete his training, which he did. During those months, however, I had managed to create a simple syllabus for us that minimised the risk of damage to either our vehicle, its occupants or other road and footpath users. Once the stress level for me approached threshold, a key part of that syllabus mandated that he engage — at his own expense — a professional instructor with their own dual-controlled vehicle… and insurance policies.
(Side note: this was the early 1990s. In the period 1985-1989 I’d undergone a traumatic midlife crisis where I risked losing everything, and couldn’t even benefit from psychiatric help. I reached the conclusion that I would have to create my own recovery program — and promptly did. It put me back in control of my life in under 18 months and, despite still being an undiagnosed Aspie — I had no more neural overload shut-downs until August 2002, which finally led to my ASx diagnosis — I enjoyed more success in my life and business than ever before.)
Once Child #2 obtained his Probationary License, Child #1 realised — in classic “tortoise-and-hare” style — what had happened and demanded I teach her to drive, immediately. She’d obtained her Learner’s Permit nearly two years before this, but was far too busy (and uncertain? — undiagnosed Aspies, all of us, you know?) to actually begin driving lessons, despite my reminders of time slipping away.
In the meantime, Child #2 had managed to write off our family people-mover in a spectacular display of willful disobedience. In an equally-immature fit of pique I’d bought a classic Morris Mini Minor (original 1960s vintage) to replace it. So this would be the first driving lesson vehicle for Child #1.
As I should, by now, have expected, things did not go exactly as planned.
Lesson #1 was intended be be familiarisation with the vehicle and its controls, key parts, etc. Simple… or so I thought.
Ms 21+ had other ideas.
I sat in the driver’s seat, the door open for her to observe what I was showing her.
“Oh, I know all that!” she declared. “Just move over and let me drive.”
About 10 seconds later we had mounted the kerb, crossed the nature strip and footpath and bounced over the igneous rock border of our tiered, landscaped front garden and become a not-particularly-artistic installation in said garden.
So Lesson #1 — as usual — became the classic transition from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence.
Legend: The vertical axis of the graph represents control (top) and absence of control (bottom). The horizontal axis represents time.
Stage 1a: Unconscious Incompetence — we think we’re in control… until something happens to make us realise the truth about our delusions…
Stage 1b: Unconscious Incompetence — this is where we really were, all along. Ignorant of our own ignorance and incompetence. (This is the default state of most teenagers, by the way, if you haven’t realised it by now.)
Stage 2: CONSCIOUS Incompetence — we step off (or are pushed off) the mirage cliff of ignorance/delusion (1a) which is typically terrifying. The only reason that fall doesn’t kill or harm us is that we were never in control in the first place… we were always at the base of the graph.
Stage 3: Conscious Competence — where, now that the instructor has our attention, we begin to learn, sometimes three steps forward/upward and two steps back. With time, practice and confidence — and lots of encouragement and reinforcement…
Stage 4: Unconscious Competence… Mastery! — We finally master the knowledge, attitudes and skills needed to qualify. (Have you realised yet that this is the standard process for ALL learning in life?)
So, having learned from my experience of teaching Child #2 to drive, in the time it took to arrange removal of my vehicle from our front garden, I implemented my stress-relief policy of “find your own professional driving instructor — and pay your own way!”
Was this approach harsh or insensitive? After all, they’re still only kids, right?
No. These were MY kids, so the classic sayings “familiarity breeds contempt” and “a prophet is without honour in his own country” hold true, sadly. We also made it a point to teach our kids about choice and consequences — and this was a very real-life, attention-grabbing example for them. I knew that their motivation for obtaining a license was very powerful (and getting more essential to them, every week). So I saw my role in all this as being the person who advanced them to Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence — usually with a well-disguised push off that imaginary cliff! 😀
They needed to take responsibility for their own life skills and assets as they approached adulthood. If they wanted their licenses, they needed to take responsibility for acquiring the required knowledge, attitudes and skills, and that would tend to have more credibility for them coming from someone in perceived authority — a professional driving instructor. (It would also mean less chance of damage and destruction to our vehicles while they learned.)
Child #3 was an entirely different kettle of fish. She’s eight years younger than Child #2 and ten years younger than Child #1. But she was always independent, resourceful and super-motivated. By the time she had her license at 18, she already owned her own car and, before long, a second car. I’ve lost count of the vehicles she’s owned since. It’s no surprise to us that she’s our most entrepreneurial child and conducts self-improvement courses for women. 😀
Child #4 was very late learning to drive and took the longest time. She was also the only one I taught myself, except for a few final lessons with a professional instructor to prepare her for her license test — which she passed easily. Part of the reasons for her late blooming as a driver was a case of PTSD that undermined her self-confidence continually. The arrival of four young Aspie sons made finding time for driving lessons and practice problematic — but also ended up being her main motivation for obtaining her driver’s license.
After my mother turned 85 she surrendered her license and gave her small car to Child #4, which prompted her to begin learning to drive. After that vehicle died, she bought a used Holden 5-seat Zafira that died just weeks later, prompting me to turn my attention to the abusive, arrogant sleazebag car yard manager who refused to accept any responsibility for it. Within days, the owner of the yard had fired him and offered a full refund, contingent on me removing the websites and social media campaign I created to convince him that he had a potentially disastrous situation on his hands (sales had plummeted in the week since I’d started my campaign).
She now drives a much more reliable — and safer — Chrysler Voyager 7-seat people-mover, in which she qualified for her license. It just took something like six or seven years for her to feel confident enough to take the test. 😀
Child #5 moved to Perth to attend the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) at Edith Cowen University in 2010. We were nervous about our youngest Aspie moving 3,000 km across to the other side of the country, on her own, with little or no family to support her. So we were thrilled when she won herself a part-time job as a children’s party entertainer with Perth’s superlative Encore Children’s Entertainment, where she quickly built a reputation for herself, and designed and made many of the costumes they used. Her experience and qualifications in working with children saw her promoted rapidly, as well. At the same time, she managed to graduate as a Bachelor of Music (Classical Voice) and earn a Graduate Diploma for herself.
True to form, she soon bought a small car and obtained her license… so I actually had NO involvement in her driving education, apart from some parking tuition when she was home for Christmas while preparing for her license test.
My advice for teaching your Aspie youngsters to drive?
If, like me, you’re also an Aspie, I recommend doing as I did (see above). It will be less stressful, risky and traumatic for BOTH of you. And for other road users!
What I did with #1, #2, #3 and #4 was to prepare them for driving lessons with NT instructors (even though the first three — and I — were undiagnosed at the time. In other words, we spent time — WEEKS of time — after hours in shopping centre car parks (NOT multi-level parks), when no vehicles were around, obstructions were few and floodlights were on (for security) just learning to be in control of the vehicle. They learned how to start and stop, on command. Emergency stops. Obedience to my commands — especially “STOP!”
Only when their control was proven — and their response to instructions INSTANT — did I hand them over to the professionals.
I strongly recommend you do the same. It will save everyone involved — especially YOU — a world of stress and aggravation. And it will save a LOT of money for instructors to simply teach them the basic skills. They’ll have them mastered before their first lesson.
But use their motivation to learn to drive as incentive to find part-time work (if they’re capable) to at least help pay for their tuition — and buy their own vehicles!
Good luck! 😀
©2018 John Counsel. All rights reserved.