Research team helps teach teens with autism how to drive

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WHDH) — A research team at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee developed a simulator that will help teach teenagers on the autism spectrum how to drive.

The goal of the program is to teach the teenagers the basic rules of the road while also identifying anything that could make driving more difficult. Drivers using the simulator are monitored to see how they react.

The program discovered that teenagers with autism tend to focus their gaze, sometimes staring at a traffic light for too long. They may also be extremely bothered by loud noises like ambulance sirens.

“You have to be very sensitive about their emotional state,” said Nilanjan Sarkar, Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University. “So it’s not just how well you are driving, how you are feeling while you are driving.”

Brandon Roberson, 16, has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. With help from the program, he was able to obtain his driver’s permit.

“It’s made me notice what I’ve never noticed before, that I didn’t think I would have to look out for when driving,” said Roberson.

Researchers hope the findings could someday be applied to driver’s ed programs nationwide.

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