A joint survey by the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) and the Center for Autism Research (CAR) at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) found that only 8% of pediatric caregivers and behaviorists are willing to assess whether their autistic patients are ready to drive. These findings, recently published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, suggest a critical need to develop resources that prepare caregivers and others working with autistic youth to effectively facilitate independence and mobility as their patients mature.
This study is part of a series of studies that aim to understand the transportation needs of autistic adolescents. Previous studies have examined how individualized training, parental support, and driving patterns contribute to safe driving. Other studies have found that whether autistic adolescents decide to drive or not, they can improve psychosocial, health and employment outcomes if they can get where they want to go on their own. When making transportation decisions, families of both autistic and non-autistic youth seek guidance from their child’s child health care providers and behavioral experts. However, little is known about these conversations or how healthcare providers approach these topics with patients.
The researchers surveyed a total of 78 healthcare providers who care for both autistic and non-autistic patients in March and April 2019. Most health care providers went to pediatricians and psychologists in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Half reported having general transport-related discussions with their non-autistic patients, while only 1 in 5 had these conversations with their autistic patients. When discussing driving, 33% of caregivers believed they could assess whether their non-autistic patients were ready to drive, while only 8% believed they could do so for their autistic patients.
It was also surprising to learn that only 1 in 4 health care providers refer their patients, autistic or not, to other health care providers for driving-related issues. Our next steps will be to develop resources and tools so that families and the professionals who support them are not largely left to make or guide important driving decisions.”
Emma Sartin, PhD, MPH, lead author and postdoctoral researcher at CIRP
A lack of guidance for families in making transportation decisions could be critical, as previous CHOP research found that two-thirds of 15- to 18-year-old autistic adolescents without intellectual disabilities currently drive or plan to drive, and 1 in 3 autistic people without intellectual disabilities get a driver’s license at the age of 21. Other recent research conducted at CHOP found that young autistic drivers with new licenses have a similar or lower crash rate than their non-autistic peers, suggesting that those who do get licensed are generally safe drivers. In addition, young autistic drivers are much less likely to have their license revoked or get a traffic violation than their non-autistic peers.
“An important way providers can help autistic teens and their families is by talking about driving and transportation before they enter high school,” says Benjamin E. Yerys, PhD, study author and clinical psychologist at CAR. “We know this seems early, but it gives them more time to take advantage of support, including those services that come from outside the health care system, including tailored instruction from a driver rehabilitation specialist.”
Resources for families to help their autistic teens transition into adulthood are available at the Center for Autism Research at CHOP and TeenDriverSource.org.
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Sartin, EB, et al. (2021) Short report: Health care providers’ discussions of transportation and driving with autistic and non-autistic patients. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities. doi.org/10.1007/s10803-021-05372-3.