Teaching Teens To Drive Diagnosed With ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, or Bipolar Disorder

Having been an active instructor for over 30 years, the answer is simple.  You teach teens diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, or Bipolar disorder the way they need to be taught.  That’s it, just teach them the way they learn best and the problem is solved.

Over the last several decades, labeling teenagers seems to have become a national past-time.  It seems like the teens that are looked upon as “normal” escape the labeling process but the teens diagnosed with disorders listed in the title of this post, have big labels pasted on their foreheads. When it comes to teaching driving, I’ve found these labels create more of a hindrance than they help. In fact, I don’t think they help at all.

I think these labels are used by some professionals to hide their own ignorance and/or inability. It’s so much easier for a professional to say, “Your teen has (enter label) and that’s why he can’t learn how to drive like a normal teen”. What this “professional” is really saying, “This teen doesn’t respond to my teaching method like most of the other teens do and I don’t have the knowledge, capability, or want to put out the effort to alter my method of teaching”.  The difference between a professional and an expert? An expert makes the necessary changes and adaptations to surpass all others …. a professional doesn’t.

There are several different learning styles and no two students learn exactly the same way.  If a teen learns how to drive in a very short amount of time, they might be labeled as gifted or normal.  If a teen takes a long time to learn how to drive, the labels aren’t quite as inspiring. This apparently easy method of assessing the driving competency of a teen is dangerous.  Many times, the fast learning (normal) student may learn “too quickly” without respecting their mortality and may fail to lock in all of the safe driving attributes presented, leaving hidden knowledge gaps. This situation creates the illusion of a competent driver.  A slower learning student is usually more concerned about their mortality and strives harder to keep all of the safe driving attributes in place by making sure they fully understand all of the presented knowledge.  Very often, the slower learning student turns out to be the better driver so how quickly one learns is irrelevant.

Whenever I have a student where the parent has warned me of let’s say, ADHD. Here’s what I say to the student:

Instructor:  I’ve been told that you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD. I don’t care about labels in this car. Do you really want to learn how to drive?

Student: Yes

Instructor:  If I were to place $1 million in cash on the dashboard and tell you that you could keep the $1 million if you keep 100% of your attention on learning how to drive during this two-hour lesson, would you do it?

Student: Yes.

Instructor:  If I take away the $1 million, have I taken away your ability to keep your attention on the lesson?

Student:  No.

Instructor:  So what you’re telling me is that you have the ability to keep your attention on learning how to drive if you choose to do so. Do you choose to keep your attention on this lesson for the full two-hours?

Student: Yes.

I now have a commitment from the student and I’ll remind them of it whenever their attention starts to lapse, which it will, so expect it and accept it.  You can only teach a student as fast as their ability to learn allows so be extremely patient and extremely thorough. It really doesn’t matter whether a student learns slowly or fast, the only thing that’s important is that the student learns completely in order to become a competent and safe driver.

John Cullington

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