Why Aspies Can’t Drive

No Aspies Sign

My son would like to learn to drive. I don’t know if he’d be a good driver. He’s a very responsible person, of course, but he has so many concentration problems as he has attention deficit, hyperactivity and Asperger’s.

I have some friends with attention deficit and they can’t drive. And I know my son. He can’t even walk down the street without chasing after every butterfly (or urban equivalent) that crosses his path. So you can see why I don’t trust him to be a good driver.

I have attention deficit and I find driving difficult. I find it’s so easy to get distracted, everything distracts me when I’m driving.

I TRY to pay attention to the road. But all things disturb me.

For example if you don’t have attention deficit and someone jumps around on the sidewalk beside you you don’t pay much attention and you keep driving. If I’m driving and someone jumps around on the sidewalk I start to look at them and then I forget that I’m driving.

And I start to look around and wonder why the person is jumping around and then I start to invent or speculate on reasons why the person is jumping around. And I forget that I’m driving.

Also because I have Asperger’s I have difficulty processing information.

In my case I have difficulty processing visual information. When I see something, I don’t know what I’m seeing. It takes me a little while before I realize what I’m looking at.

There’s a saying in Spanish when someone is looking for an object like, say, a mitten. The mitten is sitting in an obvious place in front of the person and when the person finally realizes the mitten is right in front of them they say, good thing it’s not a dog or it would’ve bitten me already.

For most people, that sort of thing happens maybe once every blue moon. For me, that sort of thing happens multiple times every day.

That means that when I’m driving it takes me a long time before I realize that that large black object in front of me is a car, so I brake.

If you add to that that maybe at the very moment a large unidentifiable (to me) black object jumps out in front of me, perhaps I am distracted observing a person jumping around on the sidewalk and wondering why they are jumping. Then you can see that there are all the ingredients to have an accident.

I read a really good article on people with ADHD and driving. It’s really helpful and offers a lot of useful tips.

For example it says to help you stay aware of what is around you when you’re driving — which I have a lot of trouble with — the driver can practise voicing out loud and enumerating what he is seeing.

For example, he can say, there’s a pedestrian cross sign up ahead so I must look around and see if someone is about to cross. There’s a sign on the street I want to turn onto and that sign means no entry, one way. So I can’t turn onto it. I must continue ahead until I find a street I can turn onto.

I often need to describe out loud what I am seeing (not when I’m driving, I mean, in real life, for example walking down the street) because if I don’t I really have no idea what I’m seeing. I’m not aware of it.

I TRY to be aware of it. But my mind only registers an amorphous unidentifiable blue object and an amorphous unidentifiable red object etc. in front of me.

I have to say out loud, ok so now there is a red car in front of me and on the right there is a blue sign in a large store window.

Another helpful tip is to put colourful stickers on the steering wheel, says the article. That prevents your attention from wandering when you’re bored, which happens to me. When I’m bored I start to look around at every place except the street.

I don’t do it on purpose, just my mind wanders off all by itself, and I’m not aware of it.

All my life I’ve had to battle my mind wandering about even when just walking down the street, to the point that after I’ve been walking around for a while I have no idea where I’ve been. Which streets I’ve walked down or which part of town I’m in.

Unless I recognize the part of town I’m in. But if I don’t I have no idea where I am and no idea how I got there.

Plan your route ahead of time, continues the article. I really need to do that.

Because people with ADHD are very disorganized so they can’t prioritize on the spot when they’re driving. So they have to plan the route ahead so before they set out they already know what they should do first, second, third etc.

For example, I can never understand how people (who don’t have ADD) are able to figure out what to cook first, second, third etc. when preparing a meal. I myself am only able to prepare one dish at a time.

I’m the sort of person who will take out an egg because I want a boiled egg, then I don’t know what to do with the egg. Then I figure out I need a pot to boil the egg in.

So I set the egg down somewhere and get a pot. Then I can’t find the egg.

When I finally find the egg I put it in the pot and put it on the stove. After about half an hour I will realize I need to put some water in the pot.

Then I’ll put the pot on the stove to boil the egg, go to the bedroom, start watching a video on YouTube and one hour later I’ll remember I left an egg to boil on the stove.

I will rush out thinking the pot has burnt but fortunately chances are I forgot to turn on the stove anyway.

Also, people like me who are on the spectrum probably have a slow processing speed. That means when something unexpected happens, we’re slow to react.

It takes us a long time to figure out just exactly what happened, so we can respond appropriately. And when you’re driving, split-second reactions are necessary.

People with attention deficit need to practise driving a lot more before they become as good as people without ADD are at driving.

According to the article, taking ADHD medication helps a lot because it helps you not get distracted so easily and it helps enormously to focus and concentrate on the task at hand, in this case, driving.

Although, for me, that is not an option. Because I’m very much against taking this sort of medication, due to the side effects.

And in fact, as an Aspie, I actually am very very good at concentrating on something I’m keenly interested in. I’m so good I can concentrate on just this one thing for 10 hours non-stop and not pay attention to or notice anything else. But when I’m not keenly interested in something I get distracted easily.

Have people with ADHD learn skills at a slower pace, quoth the article. For example you should become good at driving during the day before you add in the skill of driving during the night. Become good at driving in low traffic hours before you dash out in your car during rush hour.

And introduce each new challenge slowly. Because otherwise it’s too many things all at once and very distracting.

As an Aspie I can’t pay attention to a bunch of things all at once. It’s too much for my slow brain processer to process. I get overwhelmed and confused and I can’t understand what is happening when there’s a lot of stimuli or a lot of things to pay attention to and think about at the same time.

And driving requires you to pay attention to a lot of things at the same time. You’re bombarded by a lot of information all at once.

You have to pay attention to the traffic lights, traffic signs, all the people on the sidewalks around you and of course, the multitude of cars on all sides of you.

And that really is just too much for my 1-byte-of-RAM-memory brain.

My friends with attention deficit were unable to get a driver’s licence for reasons such as: driving the wrong way down a street because they didn’t see the one way sign. Or perhaps, like me, because they couldn’t identify it in time before turning onto the street.

Getting nervous and driving into a bunch of garbage bins. Hitting a car because they didn’t see it.

I can’t remember all the reasons why my friends couldn’t get a licence but those are the sorts of things that happen to people with attention deficit and Asperger’s.

And why it’s so hard for us to drive.

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Having Aspergers and Holding Down a Job

Holding Down a Job When You're an Aspie

The one thing I’ve learnt in life is that, more important than how you look, the most important thing that determines how people will treat you is how good your SOCIAL SKILLS are.

Nothing nothing nothing is more important than developing SOCIAL SKILLS.

Even if you have some kind of disability, like that inspiring guy who has no hands or legs — I don’t know his name but he is a famous speaker — although life might still undeniably be tough for you, in the end, if you have great social skills you will be successful and people will overlook any challenges that you might otherwise possess.

But if you are socially awkward or shy, even if you are gorgeous or you look perfect, no one will like you. You won’t be able to get a job and even if you do clench one you won’t be able to keep it.

Or if you have difficulties with executive functioning. Executive functioning is things like short-term memory. I have none.

I remember one of the very first jobs I got. Well maybe it WAS the first job I ever got, come to think of it.

My First Job

So the guy showed me around the place. For me it was just one giant whirlwind, everything he told me went in one ear and out the other because I just had no ability at all to remember a word he said.

I WANTED to remember it. I did try very hard to remember it.

But I’m incapable of remembering more than 3 facts at a time and sometimes I can only remember 2.

So after giving me the grand tour, where I couldn’t remember what each office was for or who worked in each office or which job each office was dedicated to, he took me back to the front desk and asked me to call Customer Service.

I was supposed to have remembered which office Customer Service was in! I couldn’t remember it so I couldn’t call them.

I really WANTED to remember the office number. I really tried to remember it.

But I couldn’t remember it.

So he said: “I can see you are not suited for this job at all. I’m sorry about that. I just hired Cindy here, this is also Cindy’s first job and she has turned out to be absolutely brilliant. Most people on their first job are usually amazing because they try very hard. That’s why I like to hire people with no experience. I give them their first opportunity, and in return they offer me all their enthusiasm and attention and they try very hard.

“But I can see you just don’t have what it takes. You are either very dense and slow-witted, or you are just plain lazy or you are goofing off and not paying any attention to me.

“And just in case you didn’t know it before, I am telling you now: ignoring your boss is not a good thing. Not a good thing at all. Good-bye.”

I really wish I’d known then that I had Aspergers and that having no short-term memory is one characteristic of people with Aspergers. That it’s something you can’t help and it’s not your fault.

As it was I thought the problem was because I was super incorrigibly lazy!

Because no matter how hard I tried I just still couldn’t remember. If you can’t do something no matter how hard you try isn’t it usually because you didn’t try hard enough?

Because you were just too lazy to try harder?

A Two-Edged Sword

I always think knowing that you have Aspergers (or ADHD or whatever) is a two-edged sword.

My son knows it and on the one hand I think it makes things easier for him because he knows it’s not HIS fault he can’t do some things that people expect him to be able to do.

He knows he’s not being lazy or acting insolent.

And when people see he can’t do them and they think he’s intellectually challenged he KNOWS he is not intellectually challenged, that his intelligence is normal. It’s just that being incapable of doing X is a typical and common characteristic of people with ADHD, it’s something you are born with.

So he doesn’t feel so bad.

But on the other hand it also means that he KNOWS that he has problems with X, and that people don’t like to hire people who have problems with X. So then he thinks no one will ever hire him.

More Job Problems

I had another job a few years back with similar problems. The boss showed me a ton of books and said in Book A we have a series of games that are suitable for 8 year old kids (this was at a private school where I was supposed to be an afterschool monitor). Book B has games for 10-year-olds. Book C has more intellectual challenges suitable for older kids or pre-teens and Books D-G are for teenagers. As you know teenagers aren’t so much into running around and prefer word games and intellectual challenges. Tomorrow you’ll get the 8-year-olds so why don’t you take the book I just told you about and research a few games to play with them?

I didn’t dare to ask her to tell me again which book was the one with games for 8-year-olds. If I’d done that she would’ve thought I hadn’t been paying attention to her.

And I HAD been paying attention. I just couldn’t remember anything she said. There was too much information and I got all the books mixed up.

So I had to spend a long time looking through each book to find out which one was the one for 8-year-olds.

Tunnel of Light

So you see, we aren’t lazy. We actually have to work HARDER and spend MORE TIME to be able to do the same things other, more “normal” people are able to do quickly and automatically.

I wish I’d known then too that I have attention deficit and Aspergers.

But as I said, at that time I didn’t know it. My bosses didn’t know it either.

So they simply jumped to the conclusion that I must be lazy, slow-witted or insolent.

How about you? Have you ever suffered from problems at work due to Aspergers? Or do you work with someone who is on the spectrum, or supervise an employee who is an aspie? What’s it like? Leave me a comment, do tell tell.

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