Monday, 24 June 2013

Executive function and driving

I read this article about a week ago and it inspired me to write about my experiences with driving.

I've had my learners permit for nearly 10 years, I just keep renewing it when it expires. I passed the written test 100% but the practical side of driving is just too hard for my brain to cope with. Everything moves too fast and I can't keep up so I get into an anxious and stressed state. My delayed cognitive processing makes it a challenge for me drive as well as I need to in a safe manner. Everything moves too quickly. I cannot think fast enough to do all the things required of me to drive. In particular, intersections, roundabouts, changing lanes, lights, turning corners, parking and reverse parallel parking. My brain freezes up when I need to do more than two things at once in a high risk situation (driving is risky).

I find driving very overwhelming. I have had a number of driving lessons with a driving instructor but I still really struggle with it. I was learning in a manual car. I think learning on an automatic would make driving easier for me. We only have a manual though so it is a bit difficult for me to learn to drive in our car. I have this silly idea in my head that it is best to learn on a manual as my Dad has always insisted that that was the best way to learn. I need to let that idea go.

The things I find stressful: turning corners, changing lanes, checking mirrors, parking, reverse parallel parking, roundabouts, intersections (with or without lights) - all are way too much for me to think about all at once and I freak. I find driving way too stressful. I need to be in the right frame of mind to drive, otherwise I can't. I have come to realise that at this point in my life I am better off not learning to drive because I just cannot take on anymore stress at this point in my life. Even if I had my license and could drive I would barely use it.

The following things affect how I process information and approach driving. Executive function, how many spoons I have, Sensory processing disorder, and anxiety.

In a number of the Autism Women's groups I am in we've had discussions about driving and how challenging many of us find driving. Many of us either don't have our licenses and are at peace with that or some have their licenses but only drive in certain places that they know well. It is a good feeling to know that I am not the only one who has struggles with driving. For years I felt like a freak, and a loser for not being able to drive. I was teased, laughed at and ridiculed by those in my family and some friends. Some people were more subtle and I just got a feeling from them that they disapproved of the fact that I only had my Learners and wasn't up to the same level of development as my peers. I took all this on, and it was very hurtful and hard to bear. I turned it onto myself and got into a vicious cycle of self-hate about the fact that I couldn't drive very well. I felt like a failure.

I have since let this go and I feel free. I am no longer accepting other people's opinions or view of me. I now let them go back to whom they belong to. I no longer feel I need to have everyone's approval for how I live my life. That in itself is a very liberating feeling.

It is very important to set up boundaries and recognise our limitations otherwise we end up being pushed to our limit. I have been there many times and I have decided I need to set up healthy boundaries so that others get my limitations. I cannot keep pretending to be able to cope like an NT anymore. It is up to us to take our power back, set boundaries and live in a way which suits us.

At this point in my life I am not pursuing learning to drive as I am too fragile and still improving from my breakdown. I am finally at peace with this. It does not make me any less of a person because I cannot drive. I am instead focusing on other skills and things that can do and enjoy doing.


  1. I remember when I told my mother I was no longer taking input from her about how I should be.

    It was really powerful for me. She was stunned.

    1. That is totally Ausome Stephanie! It really is powerful and empowering to take that step. Good on you!

  2. I drive pretty well on country roads, in small and medium-sized towns, and on highways. I can drive in cities (where I have to track half a dozen things at once and people are extremely rude), but I find it very draining. I cope with it by driving very slowly when in cities and leaving lots of extra time to get lost, get mad, park the car, bang my head on the steering wheel, cry, and start over. I try to avoid driving in cities whenever possible, choosing instead to park on the outskirts and take public transportation into the city and my feet once I get there.

    Don't feel bad if you don't drive. It's a nice convenience but not a statement about your value as a human being. There's too much CO2 being spewed out on this planet anyway.


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