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Steps to Take for Teen Drivers with ADHD – A Short Guide

Earning the driver’s license is a major milestone in a teen’s life. The added independence from

Parents, of course, will worry whenever their teen goes out to drive — they know that inexperience can be dangerous. Even the best driver education for teens in Halifax, NS or Saint John, NB won’t be able to give teens the experience that adult drivers have. It’s a basic rule of life that the only way to get experience driving is to drive.

Teens with with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder — and their parents may worry about the effects ADHD will have on their driving — both the learning process and, later, the independent driving all teens want to enjoy.

Teens and adults with ADHD can become excellent, safe drivers. As with other parts of life, some adjustments need to be made.  Here are some key ideas for making sure your teen with ADHD can become a great driver.

What is ADHD, and how can it affect driving?

ADHD displays three common symptoms of the neuro developmental disorder. People with ADHD have difficulty in regulating attention, engage in hyperactive behavior, and tend to be impulsive. Most display all three symptoms in varying degrees.

  • Attention regulation — people can show both too little and too much attention. The loss of focus while engaged in some “boring, repetitive” activity is one of the more well-known signs of ADHD. The other side of attention regulation, however, is being hyperfocused on something interesting — such as a video game. This combination leads some to think that attention is a choice, but it’s not.
  • Hyperactivity — Hyperactivity shows up in many ways.  Fidgeting, frequent running, touching, excessive talking, and being unable to engage in quiet play are all signs of hyperactivity. It is frequently coupled with impulsivity.
  • Impulsivity — While everyone acts on impulse from time-to-time, ADHD can lead to continuing and repeated impulsivity. This impulsivity can show up in acting before thinking through the consequences, the inability to wait on line, making impulsive decisions, and blurting out answers.

The ways in which these symptoms can interfere with driving are obvious. Driving requires focus — and sometimes can be “boring” and other times lead to over focus on one thing out on the road. Driving requires sitting for long periods of time. Impulsive actions behind-the-wheel can create dangerous situations.Parents and teens should be concerned about how ADHD will affect driving. After all, accidents are the largest cause of death for teens and young adults. Inexperience contributes to that high rate, and the combination of impulsivity and attention regulation issues can combine with inexperience in harmful or deadly ways.

How can parents get their teens with ADHD ready to drive?

Parents can play a key role in getting their teens ready to drive, whether they have ADHD or not. When ADHD is present, some additional strategies need to be implemented to make sure the process is successful.

Consulting with your physician, behavioral therapist, or a driver rehabilitation specialist can help you determine your teen’s readiness to drive. They may give you guidance for the process.

The driver education process can begin early — 2-3 years before your teen is eligible for a permit — by establishing rules and behaviors which can earn driving and other privileges. You want to have both immediate and future rewards. Some ideas which might help parents determine readiness include:

  • Create checklists for all daily routines, including tasks, chores, and regular activities — one might even help you in your busy life!
  • Provide incentives which provides both coupons for immediate rewards (a pizza dinner, a trip to the movies) as well as builds credit for something they want in the future — driving lessons.
  • Make sure that the ability to drive will depend on behavior leading up to permit eligibility. No teen is perfect, of course, but hard work managing the negative components should be recognized (and enjoy the creativity which seems to connect closely with ADHD).
  • If you have access to private back roads, you may be able to begin driver training early — as a reward for following the rules.
  • If you set a limit, stick to it.

Driving contracts can help support you and your teen

Teens both with and without ADHD need clear rules covering their driving. You can create a driving contract with them — including things which you will do if they demonstrate responsibility. The contract should include the following, at the least:

  • Rules on ADHD medication and driving
  • Permitted destinations
  • GPA and school behavior
  • Curfews
  • Trip planning
  • Telephone use

Commentary drives can help everyone cope with driving

You might want to consider building commentary drives into your routine. A commentary drive is simply a drive in which you narrate the situation and actions taken as you go along.  Most of them are done by drivers, but you can begin the practice with your teen in the passenger seat.

Have them describe what they see and what’s going on, and you can explain what you’re doing and why. For example, if you are going to make a turn at the next light, let them know — and have them tell you what they see and what they’d do. And then you add to that, pointing things they didn’t see or mention.

Commentary drives work best when the person doing the commentary has some experience driving, but they can be modified for new drivers.

A commentary drive should consider both the situation and the actions. You’d be saying things like:

  • “That driver looks like they’re trying to find an address, because they’re going 15 in a 25, and sometimes pull over towards the curb.”
  • “I see the light ahead turning yellow, so it will be red by the time we get there.”
  • “In the next block, I see children playing in the yard. I need to keep an eye out for them because one might run into the street.”
  • “I’m making a right turn here, but there is a woman waiting to cross the road, so I will stop and let them go before I turn.”

Commentary drives work with teens with ADHD. They build situational awareness and boost the internal dialogue which helps people become great drivers.

Teens with ADHD can be great drivers

Your teens with ADHD are teens first. They have the same desire for independence (in safety) as their peers. You can prepare them for their driver education in Miramichi, NB or Bedford, NS easily and readily.

While you might prepare them differently than teens without ADHD, most of the adjustments you make will be minor. They will also give you a better relationship with your teen, and help them to find strategies to work with the way their ADHD affects them.