People with autism appear to have more difficulty than others when first learning to drive, but a study suggests that with practice, they can be just as skilled behind the wheel.

Even in challenging situations, researchers found that licensed drivers on the spectrum performed comparably to those without disabilities.

The findings come from a study published recently in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics looking at 100 drivers with varying levels of experience ages 16 to 26, half of whom had autism without intellectual disability and half who were typically developing.

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All of the participants were monitored while they used a virtual reality driving simulator which included progressively more difficult scenarios with various distractions and conditions.

Drivers with autism were more likely to exhibit varying speeds and trouble with lane management especially when the conditions were challenging — like in a construction zone — or in cases where the driver was distracted by the radio or conversation, the study found.

However, these difficulties were predominately seen in those learning to drive who did not yet have a license. Among study participants who already had a driver’s license, researchers found no significant differences in performance between those with and without autism.

Though most people with autism do not drive, previous research suggests that about a third of those on the spectrum who do not have intellectual disability obtain a license.

Researchers behind the current study said their findings suggest that more individually-tailored driving instruction may be beneficial in helping people with autism prepare.

“We hope our findings will help in developing targeted approaches to help teens and young adults with ASD to become safe drivers, helping to promote their independence in many aspects of life,” said Kristina E. Patrick of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio who led the study.

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