“I know that saying that learning I’m neurodivergent helped my driving is a bit of an odd claim,” said Saira K. Zuberi, “but it is true in that it made me examine the issues that I have as a driver/decision-maker, and in the way I move, how my body and brain connect, or how I communicate non-verbally.”
Getting a licence is a rite of passage for many, but for neurodiverse people the experience of driving comes with unique, heightened challenges. Information overload, ADHD and anxiety can make driving more difficult.
“You experience the world very differently because all your senses are very heightened,” said Anita Lesko, 62.
Lesko is a registered nurse anesthetist who was diagnosed at age 50 with Asperger’s. She has since written extensively about driving with autism, contributing pieces for organizations such as the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.
“I call it living in Dolby Surround Sound, because all your senses are greatly intensified. So, things that other people would not be bothered by, like loud music, touch sensations, problems identifying facial expressions and body language and spatial orientation, tend to be greatly affect autistic people.”
Anne Woods, diagnosed as autistic at age 40, finds getting behind the wheel therapeutic.
“Driving for me is a brilliant way to center and focus and forget everything else,” she said. “It’s a good combination of physical and mental activities that require me to use both hemispheres of my brain.”
Zuberi, 47, who was diagnosed as neurodivergent in the spring, said, “It took me years to teach my nervous system that missing a turn is not cause for panic or a tantrum, because you literally just take the next turn.
“Now I understand I’m not an idiot. It’s actually just an issue with how my brain works. Having GPS is extremely helpful!”
Winnipegger Adam Schwartz started driving at age 18.
“I got my driver’s licence late because I was afraid of driving,” he said. “It got to the point where it was awkward being the only one of my friends who didn’t have a licence. It was awkward always asking people for a ride.”
He’s now been driving for 18 years and said his fear of getting lost or missing his destination still “terrifies” him, but has been partially solved by technology.
“I feel nervous about going to a new place. Even when I have GPS I worry about missing the location. It is scary, especially highway driving, because I end up focusing so much on finding the place but GPS is a lot easier to use than a map.”
Sensory overload is another issue. Sometimes described as a “traffic jam in your head,” it happens when the senses become overwhelmed by any number of triggers, including noise, bright lights and movement.
“I am a good driver,” said Sarah Richardson. “I am a confident driver. My main issue is sensory with the noise my kids generate in the back seat. It is …….