Motivation OAR: Tapping into Driver Motivation | Organization for Autism Research

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Motivation and learning to drive go hand in hand. Whether you’re a parent who is hoping to engage their kid in the excitement of learning to drive or an autistic individual who sees driving as a valuable resource but isn’t excited to learn. Motivation is a constant part of the learning to drive experience. It’s also one of the trickiest aspects to figure out. I am an autistic adult who learned to drive and my learning to drive journey took me far beyond just driving proficiently and all the way to the start of my new organization “Driving With Autism”. My main reason for creating my organization was the lack of resources I saw during my journey. My own state was all over the place with barebones programs and limited transportation options varying by district. After I had been working as a consultant on learning to drive or designing autistic focused driving programs for a few years I noticed something: Autistic individuals and their families saw the value in discussing autism and learning to drive, but few organizations saw that value as well. And so, I created Driving With Autism so that there was a place that autistic drivers and their families could come to for autism specific driving resources. 

Today we’re here to talk about motivation and how tapping into it can be so important for autistic individuals who are learning to drive. I am constantly asked if autistic people can learn to drive, and that is a reasonable question with a very complex answer. I have found that with the right resources and autism focused driving classes it is very possible for autistic individuals to drive, though of course it is not for everybody. But even before we discuss if someone can drive, we need to address the elephant in the room: Do they want to drive? Without motivation, it doesn’t matter what someone can do, because they don’t have the drive (Pun intended) to do it. So, let’s dive into ways that autistic individuals can tap into sources of motivation when considering or actively learning to drive. There are three main aspects of motivation that I would like to address, and they will give you some ideas to work with.  

The first aspect of motivation to mention is job fields, and to explore this aspect autistic new drivers should ask and answer the following questions: 

  • What employment path do you see yourself on for? 
  • Is driving needed for your employment goals? 

Employment must be considered in the driving discussion because certain jobs, from a bus driver to a general therapist, require driving for various miles. I find this is often the source of motivation that is most overlooked. Being able to drive expands job and social opportunities for autistic individuals by allowing them greater independence. Whether we like it or not, currently a lot of jobs in the United States require an ability to drive, but because of this it is a goldmine for sources of motivation! When I was looking for jobs the autism field, I saw listings like mentoring where it required driving a certain amount of miles. To me this makes sense because a mentor goes out into the community with their individual and having a car seems like a very important resource. And this really motivated me to get out there and get my license because I knew it was a step in my career development, which I’ve always been very dedicated to. Some jobs may be flexible with other options like public transportation, but that will vary with the location of yourself and your job. Knowing what your field looks like transportation wise will allow you to explore many different sources of motivation. It’s all about finding what makes you excited to learn, and then running (or driving) with it! 

Speaking of which, the second aspect of motivation to discuss is location. For this aspect autistic new drivers should ask themselves these questions: 

  • Do you live near noteworthy towns/cities? 
  • How necessary is driving to get around where you live?  

I ask about location because it’s very relevant to what your driving experience will entail once you do get your license. One of the most important things to think about here is if driving is necessary to get around in your daily life. I know many adults who live in cities and don’t have a license because they rely on public transportation, but I also know adults in rural areas who ended up getting their license because they just didn’t know how else to get around. For individuals who live in cities though, driving is often necessary to get to rural areas. Location is a really valuable thing to explore for motivation because there’s usually at least one good location related reason to want to get a license. Whether it’s to get around, go on long-distance road trips, or just to get to your favorite place in town a little more often. 

Finally, the third and final aspect of motivation I want to explore here is the inner thought process of a new driver.  For this aspect these are the questions an autistic new driver should try to answer: 

  • Do you have any fears of being held back due to not driving? 
  • What are your fears for driving? 

Knowing your fears is important. While they can absolutely be sources of motivation, they more often actually drain drivers of motivation. Either way they are very important to consider, and this starts with every driver being honest with themselves about what their fears are, especially autistic drivers. A good place to start is by thinking about your fears related to when you are driving, and your fears related to not being able to drive. My biggest fears were mentally and work wise. I had a huge fear that I would be rejected from working in the field I completed a degree for simply because I couldn’t drive.  That fear created pressure, and I let that pressure get to me which led to a lot of anxiety and other mental tolls. I had to use a lot of determination to offset those negative feelings. As I learned to stop focusing on the fear and the negatives I started paying more attention to overcoming the barriers keeping me from my best life. At a certain point, what used to be a fear that held me back became my biggest source of motivation. It starts with being honest with yourself but it can lead to amazing things. 

I wanted to talk about motivation in the piece because it’s not only something I work with many autistic drivers on, but it’s also something I myself have had to work on. And thinking about the three aspects of motivation that I described in this piece helped me get my license and become a routine driver. Exploring motivation has been so important to me, and as one autistic driver to many more, and hopefully some potential autistic drivers, I am so glad I got to share it with you today! Yes, driving has a lot of gray area and I fully know that it’s not for everyone. Regardless, my organization Driving With Autism is built on the fact that autistic individuals can learn to drive so much more often than most people expect, and autistic individuals deserve the ability to fully explore that opportunity. We are here to help autistic individuals and their families make informed decisions about transportation, and I hope this piece helped you do just that. 


About the Author: Andrew Arboe is the Founder of Driving With Autism and specializes in helping autistic drivers and their families pursue driving as a transportation option. He found his path on driving because of his personal experiences learning how to drive, while autistic. He saw the difficulties that a lack of resources and research can add to transportation, which connects people to opportunities, employment, and secondary education. It is for those reasons he chose to challenge the lack of resources by presenting workshops, consulting with autistic individuals and parents, and much more. Andrew knows that he cannot speak for everyone’s experience, so he embraces using tips, tricks, and important concepts to help new drivers create their own roadmap for learning to drive. 


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