If you have a child with Down syndrome approaching the age when his or her friends will soon be driving, then you may likely wonder if your child can get behind the wheel, as well. Every child with Down syndrome is different, as you surely know, just as every other child is. That means that your child may be able to learn to drive soon, later in life, or they may be safest remaining a passenger only. Here is a short guide to using all the resources you can to help you decide if and when your child can begin learning to drive and how to help them prepare for their driver's exam. 

Should Your Child Drive?

1. The first step to determining if your child is ready for the road is to consider what skills they have acquired that would signal they are ready for the freedom that driving will give them. Even if you plan to only let them drive locally when you are also with them, realize there is always a chance they will decide to take a ride on their own without your permission. You need to ensure that, if they decide to do that, their life will not be in danger. Is your teen able to remain home alone for significant periods of time?  If you visit a shopping mall together, are the two of you able to browse separate stores for short periods of time and then meet back without issues? If the answer to these questions are "yes," then your child is likely to be able to handle the bit of independence that driving will provide them. 

2. Next, consider what tasks that require body-mind coordination they have mastered in life. Can they ride a bicycle? Can they play any sports relatively well?  Can they perform step-by-step tasks, like washing the laundry or dishes, alone without help from you? If the answer to these questions is "no," then consider any other skills they can perform that require this coordination before ruling out driving. 

3. Another great way to assess your child's coordination is to have their  doctor perform a neuropsychological exam on them. This exam is often performed by a psychologist, and it evaluates a variety of mental abilities your child needs to have to drive, although it is performed on a variety of people for a variety of other reasons, as well. During a neuropsychological exam, your child's doctor will perform a variety of tests that assess your child's level of hand-eye coordination, attention span, critical-thinking skills, ability to follow directions, and many other skills that your child will need when learning to drive and while driving.  This test is not pass or fail. Before having the test performed, you can inform the doctor that you are specifically testing to determine whether your child has the potential to learn how to drive and eventually be a safe driver after practicing. Your doctor will then keep this goal in mind during the test and finally give you their expert opinion on the matter after they have considered the results carefully. 

The Learning Process for Driving with Down's Syndrome

If you and your child's doctors decide your child is ready to learn to drive, then the next step is for your child to obtain the classroom driver's education that all new drivers need. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a class tailored to children with disabilities. If not, then don't worry, because they can be taught individually or in a classroom setting with their peers of all ability levels. Whether your child is given official homework or not, it is a good idea to set aside time after each class to discuss what they learned that day. This can help you break down any material they don't understand further or just watch in amazement as your explain what they have learned in great detail!

Once your child passes the classroom driving education course (if they don't pass the first time, remember that they can keep trying until they succeed), it will be time for real driving lessons on the road. There are driving instructors who work with the disabled exclusively in programs called Driver Rehabilitation courses. These instructors have what is called a CDRS credential, which they earn by taking classes that teach them how to work with the disabled population successfully. If your child is high-functioning, then they may not need a teacher with this credential. It is not required by law for a driving instructor who works with the disabled to have this credential, so if you find an instructor without it who is willing to work with your child, then use your best judgement to determine if they are the right instructor for your child. 

When teaching people with disabilities to drive, instructors take time to ensure the individuals learn the basics of operating a vehicle well before they lead students onto the road. They also don't just "pass" any student if they don't feel is ready for the road for any reason. If for any reason your child does not pass their road-driving course the first time, remind them that there is always more time for them to grow, mature, and try again later. 

Finally, once your child has learned to drive, it will be time to pass the driving exam. If they have made it to the final exam, then the only things that may get in the way of passing is their nerves or a few minor mistakes. If they don't pass the first time, then further instruction may be needed, or they may just need some help learning to not feel nervous behind the wheel when they know they are being examined. 

If your child has down's syndrome, then realize they are legally allowed to earn a license and drive as long as they don't put others or themselves in danger when behind the wheel. It is up to you and your child's various doctors to determine if they will be safe behind the wheel. With the right instruction and some patience, your child may begin driving close to their peers or later in life. The most important thing to remember is that if your child is determined to drive and can do so safely, then never give up!

For more information, or to see if your local driving school has a specialist with CDRS credential, consider sites like http://www.a1peckdrivingschool.com