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Little Known About How Autism Affects Teen Drivers: Researchers

THURSDAY, Jan. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Two-thirds of driving-age American teens with a high-functioning autism spectrum disorder are currently driving or plan to drive, and these teens have a number of common characteristics, a new study says.

People with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders, or HFASDs, have subtle impairments in social interaction, communication, motor skills and coordination. They also have difficulty regulating emotions.

Many of these skills are used when driving, noted the researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies.

"Little is known about how HFASDs affect a person's ability to drive safely," study lead author and developmental pediatrician Dr. Patty Huang said in a hospital news release.

"Over the past decade, the rate of children diagnosed with an HFASD has increased, meaning that more of those kids are now approaching driving age. Car crashes are the number one cause of death for teenagers, so it is important that we understand how HFASDs impact driving and how to develop appropriate educational and evaluation tools," she noted.

Huang and her colleagues surveyed nearly 300 parents of teens with HFASDs and identified a number of common characteristics among teens most likely to become drivers, including:

  • Being at least 17 years old
  • Enrollment in full-time regular education
  • Planning to attend college
  • Having held a paid job outside the home
  • Having a parent who has taught another teen to drive
  • Inclusion of driving-related goals in his or her individualized education plan.

The study was published in the January issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

"It's very common for parents of kids with HFASDs to ask how they should handle learning to drive. Knowing these characteristics can help us prepare anticipatory guidance for families," Huang said. "In Pennsylvania, it's the law for teens to have a doctor's sign-off before they can get a learner's permit and that makes it easier to address driving-specific concerns. In states that don't have those laws, it's an issue that physicians should be prepared to address with their patients and their parents."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about teen drivers.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, news release, Jan. 9, 2012

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