Learning to drive is right of passage for many teens and young adults. However, the skill can be difficult to master for those with autism who tend to struggle with motor skills and coordination and frequently have difficulty in situations lacking predictability.

Now researchers are set to look at whether or not a driving simulator can help those with autism overcome the challenges of handling a car or if the training device can help determine who with the disorder is well qualified to be behind the wheel.

Using a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, researchers at the University of Virginia plan to study 20 teenagers with high functioning autism — half of whom will be trained in a driving simulator and half of whom will be taught to drive in a more typical fashion through driver’s education or by their parents.

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“We hope that by controlling the complexities of driving for these teens on the simulator, and by replaying mistakes to provide a safe environment for practice, we can build skills in teen drivers with Asperger’s and high-functioning autism,” said Daniel Cox, a professor of behavioral medicine who is working on the study. However, Cox points out that, “not all individuals with autism spectrum disorders will be able to develop the skills to safely drive a car and we hope the simulator will also help us determine who is and who is not a good candidate to become an independent driver.”

While symptoms of autism may impair critical driving skills in some individuals, no state currently restricts driving privileges for people with the developmental disorder.

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