I know I have been talking about this a lot, but I do feel as though that I have gone through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I have finally achieved my goal of getting my driver’s license and would love to explain the process here from what I was going through during the test, how practicing driving was, my feelings during the test, and what will be my next move.
Part I: Flooring it (October/November 2020)
When I first passed the test to receive my driver’s permit, I wasn’t sure how I would handle driving in an open range. This was when I didn’t know how to properly reverse a car. As I was first learning, I never damaged it, because it was in the open, but it was hard when I would miss something small and would mash the accelerate pretty hard. Most of the time my nerves would get to me when I would try to start the car at a regular speed to get out of the parking spot, but in the moment I would sometimes overreact by mashing the accelerate then immediately trying to figure out how to break afterwards. It took me two weeks to manage but I figure out how to decipher the differences between the 2 pedals, but once it comes down to getting to steering and driving, it would then be time to moving up to understanding the lights.
Part II: Blinking lights (November 2020)
Blinkers were easy for me to understand as I could use them effectively by the end of October. It felt like it was a while before I tried to interact with others because I could recall my mother was telling me when to stop and when to turn on my turning signals. I think the real issue fell in is when I would try to turn on certain sharp turns or even missed stops (which again, is in an empty parking lot). I would probably say that approximately, a day or 2 before I had COVID, I began to drive alongside other cars and would learn how to use my turning signals to have proper communication with them.
Part III: Mental communication and lanes (December 2020/January 2021)
Around the end of December, I decided to get back into driving again, since most of November I was struck with COVID and didn’t have much mental thought for me to get out of the house to drive, or even to walk. So, I would say around December 20th I began learning how to read the signs and whatnot around the neighborhood; mainly signs as “stop,” “speed limits,” “slow” and “one-way” signs. I didn’t drive places that didn’t have stoplights yet because sometimes the speed on those was a bit too fast for me to handle if it were pressured traffic. When I was going through the areas that were without stoplights, I did notice that there were some two-way roads and there wasn’t a line in between the road for me to follow. However, there were times when someone would be trying to pass, and because I didn’t know what to do, I would immediately veer to the right to assure that the person incoming can get as much space to go past me. I thought this was myself doing a favor, but that’s also when the lesson of mental communication would come in. I could have tapped into another car doing that, or I could have had miscommunicated because I would be driving forward for me to give the driver ahead the amount of space needed. So I spent some time trying to understand how to not do that and use my flashers to let the drivers know that I wanted them to pass or lookout to see if they wanted me to pass. Over time, I think with that, I became a very passive person when it came to learning about lanes, especially when it comes to being stopped at double parking, or just being in a one-lane driveway.
While still staying on this topic of mental communication, eye contact was one of the things I have learned around this time as well. This lesson made me become aware of those signs and even made that much of a difference when I went walking. I am a visual learner, but there really was something different behind the wheel while trying to figure out 1) People who have very tinted windows and it’s hard to read their reactions 2) cars that might stop on a dime and have to make a last-minute turn 3) people who will run/bike across the street at an untimely notice. There’s a lot that I had to rewire when I am behind the wheel so I would try to make sure that I would not just take notice in what I was doing while driving around certain areas, but being mindful of the environment whether that is out on the road or in the car.
Part IV: Long drives and parallel parking (February/March 2021)
Around this time, I was getting used to driving from some fairly long distances. But I wasn’t learning how to drive in a speedway just yet. There were some roads where I would try to understand how to take sharp turns. Here I was learning to take sharp turns correctly, but I already had somewhat of an idea of how to handle certain turns. I was more focused on straightening up with the line, which again, nothing wrong, but I was concerned about things like that. It is similar in my mind to have things lined up or prepared a certain way. I was unsure of how to manage traffic lines at this time, but I did keep in mind to make sure that if I do follow the flow of traffic that I would just keep in mind that there are other people in the car with me.
Part V: Papa bear, Mama bear and the cubs (February-April 2021)
It was around mid-February where I started to get used to having other people in the car and having to apply what I learned with distractions! I thought driving, people talking and music playing would be a complete distraction for me, since out of all honesty, I feel as though I do lose focus very, VERY often. So for myself to at least, I know that I do have some sense of control while driving is great, and the reason why I say “some” is because I do want to try and have brief conversations like if I was lost and needed an extra set of eyes on the GPS, or if I needed someone to carefully describe a place we are going. At first, I did this with my mother and my stepfather, but knowing that there are going to others speaking from the backseat and sometimes all at once, will be where the challenge comes in. Entering “the cubs,”—The reason why I wanted to give out this title is that sometimes, children will be crying, or my younger siblings will be stating hard to understand conversations that will allow me to dismiss them, but I do feel as though that it has taken me two months to get the grasp of that over time that I can drive on my own that I do have that down.
Part VI: Expressway traveling (March/April 2021)
I don’t use the expressway traveling that much, but I just thought I should add this here because I think it connects very well with what I am focusing on. I mainly drive on Sundays where there is a certain level of understanding of the calming flow of traffic, so I typically don’t have a problem with this. However, I do think about if I was to do this during late-night flow or even when it’s heavy traffic or reconstruction. If I am going to be careful and try not to be nervous during those moments then I would try to not think too much about the timing on getting to places. It’s so hard not to do that and not result in having a brief moment where I am nervous because of some last-minute occurrences, or let alone how to handle it. Of course, I only went through an expressway one time as of the making of this blog and so far, I did find it pretty relaxing because it was a Sunday. I’m just hoping that if it’s going to be a long drive that I don’t break out into being extremely tired or lose attention because there are some moments when I will drive a straight line and try to entertain myself during the duration of the drive to my destination.
Part VII: Missing signals (May/June 2021)
It was around early to mid-May when I took my driver’s exam, and, I was aware that I had everything down, but somehow it got me shaken up, and I mean VERY shaken up! It felt like every time I went over to the place; I was missing something that made the last trip even more nerving than the last. I don’t know if this says anything about the autism spectrum, but I went to the same place 3 times because I thought I would have it mapped out, but even then, repetition didn’t seem to work in this kind of setting. I did get one thing out of the ballpark with that and that was parallel parking. Though I learned a lot while practicing I found that I wanted to learn what else I was missing while taking the test, and weirdly enough it was throwing on my signals. I got so used to driving in regular traffic settings, I would forget to display certain signals in scenarios where they weren’t needed, like a parking lot for example. In connection to that, the tests that I took all of may were in connection with the COVID safety procedures where the driver instructor couldn’t go in the car with you, so you couldn’t do an all out drive in actual traffic and because it was done in a parking lot. Without that many visuals, signaling, learning my lane, and trying to understand my environment was all too difficult for me to do, but it did make me go back to basics. I did what I could to pass future tests, I was just putting on signals on times where I was going to make every single turn, and it got to the point where I just felt like putting on turning signals at all turns. I wanted to make this a routine so when I take my next test, I have everything down, especially turns.
Part VIII: Mission complete! (June 2021)
Around this time, I wanted to make sure I did everything correctly, I’ve plowed through every driving simulator, watched how I drove, how other people drove visually took notes the best way I could and got through the understanding of traffic. However, when I took this test, I dropped a bit of my confidence compared to the last three times I took it. Also, I took it in another spot that I never went around and even familiarized with the look or anything. But somehow, the visuals were there when we arrived and I found that to be a boost of confidence! Being the fact that this was the fourth time that I took this test, I wanted to make sure I had the signals, the lanes, and the instructions done in a way where I could just nail the test no problem. However, I only had one issue and that was my speed. Because of my low confidence, I didn’t have a certain speed set, and with that, I just wanted to make sure I read every sign. It was costly, but I guess if “slow and steady wins the race” was a thing, this was literally it! I was very nervous and thought I failed from the fact that I was driving too slow and also had a hard time understanding what the driving instructor said because of my attention span and that some of the things he told me were too fast, but when I heard that I got a “92 out of 100” I was so happy, as I was getting my license!
Part IX: Future goals
So, now that I have accomplished this goal, I do want to get a gist of trying to travel to further places on my own and not get distracted whether that is from a car, a bike, or walking. However, I think a car driving is going to be it’s own kind of challenge because it is a huge responsibility to take in owning a car, caring for it, and learning how to pay off certain parts or insurances from it, but since it’s a long term goal of getting a vehicle, I might wind up just taking in long drives as a short term goal as I am sharing with parents in their vehicle. Also, there are certain events that I want to check out that aren’t in Philly or potentially work-based assignments where I am not taking public transportation as much. Other than that, as long as everything with COVID is slowly getting itself back together, I don’t really see myself driving around as much, possibly until next year, but the goal of getting my own vehicle probably will be a bit sooner before this year ends.
Part X: Advice and Closing
The whole thought of writing this segment of driving is because I thought individuals on the spectrum need to know that there is going to be a lot of visual attention and distractions while driving. I don’t think that this is a detailed as in trying to understand all laws of traffic, but it is something that I definitely want to follow because it is a huge responsibility and if you are ready for that kind of thing, then go for it! You got this and just be calm! Other than that, I know this has got to be one of my longest blogs out there and that’s because I do want to be as specific as I can, but also at the same time try to make sure that you too can understand what’s going on if you are planning on making this a goal. Be safe, drive safe, and enjoy your summer!