For many with Autism a fear of driving stems from anxiety that can result from being pulled over by an officer of the law. In some cases, fear of just that very scenario is the reason many never pursue obtaining their driver’s license.

pull over, police officer

Good communication skills and actions are key to making an already stressful situation go without incident for anyone, but with the diagnosis of autism, Aspergers, or speech impediments misinterpretation is almost a certainty. Dr. Louise O’Donnell, who specializes in Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology at UT Health Science Center in San Antonio Texas, offers suggestions to make a ‘pull-over’ go without incident.

Dr. Louise O’Donnell/UTHSC : Part 1

Things to remember when you are pulled over:

    • Do not panic (deep breaths)
    • Do not get out of your vehicle
    • Wait for the officer to approach you
    • Roll down your window and listen to what the officer tells you to do
    • Keep your hands on the steering wheel
    • Be polite
    • Wait for the officer to tell you what to do (get your license/proof of insurance) then do it
    • Sign the appropriate form if the officer tells you to do so

Dr. Louise O’Donnell/UTHSC : Part 2

Driving is not always an option for those with Autism, however if you or someone you know is interested in being behind the wheel, practice a pull-over in order to ease the stress associated with driving and the fear many have (neuro-typical and autistic alike) from imagining the encounter. In this case the phrase, practice makes perfect  comes to mind and most definitely applies for a smoother outcome.

by Jennifer Allen

Driving with Autism logo

Learn more about AS101’s “Driving with Autism” here!

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  1. Has anyone thought of producing an ID card to hand to the officer that simply states the driver is Autistic. I am a LEO (law enforcement officer), if someone is overly anxious or nervous, I begin to look for the reason with probing questions. If I was given a card with the driver’s license, it would help me greatly and I would be less likely to probe beyond my normal level.

    1. Author

      Hello Steven, thank you for your comments! Many states (mainly private organizations) offer cards identifying autism and other communication challenge disorders. That is a great option to identify your disability to an officer of the law, but I was thrilled when I approached the Texas DPS with this concern, that they agreed to place the restriction code “autism/communication impediment” directly on the driver license as to avoid someone like my son, reaching for another card when an officer might mistaken his action for reaching for a weapon. People on the spectrum oftentimes have a challenge with reading any type of social cues and do not feel the importance of their actions which may easily be construed as flippant behavior! Our training with state troopers on autism, aspergers and other non-aggressive disorders has been an exciting start to this initiative and one I hope will only grow. Thank you for what you do keeping us all safe!! – Jennifer Allen

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