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Researchers at Vanderbilt Helping Teens with Autism Learn How to Drive
July 20, 2016
Source: WSMV-TV, TN
One of the greatest perks of turning 16 is the chance to get a drivers license, but that important step toward adulthood can be difficult for those with autism.
A research team at Vanderbilt University [in Nashville, Tennessee] is working on ways to help. The goal of the Vanderbilt simulator program is to teach teens with autism spectrum disorder the basic rules of the road and also identify things that could make driving more difficult to them.
Lisa Goring with Autism Speaks estimates that 500,000 adolescents with autism will become adults with autism within the next 10 years.
As part of that research, team members tracked how 16-year-old Brandon Roberson reacted to a driving simulator.
Roberson has ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder] and Asperger syndrome, which is a high-functioning form of autism. Drivers like Roberson may be extremely bothered by loud noises, such as ambulance sirens.
"You have to be very sensitive about their emotional state. So its not just how well you are driving, how you are feeling while you are driving," said Nilanjan Sarkar, Ph.D., with Vanderbilt University.
The program is also uncovering differences about how teens with autism tend to focus their gaze, sometimes staring at a traffic light too long. The program can also detect whether the driver is overly stressed or completely disengaged.
Since going through the program, Roberson was able to get his drivers permit.
"Its made me notice what [I have] never noticed before that I didnt think I would have to look out for when driving," he said.
The findings could someday be applied to driver education programs across the country, removing some the roadblocks in the drive to become independent.
Note: The online story includes a video with captions. (1:48 mins.)
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