Participants sought for trial of driver training for youth with Asperger Syndrome

The University of Sydney's Driver Rehabilitation Clinic is seeking participants for the trial of a new specialised driver training program that aims to assist young people with Asperger Syndrome (AS) to learn to drive safely.

Driving to work, visiting friends and family, or borrowing the car for your first date are activities most of us take for granted. Despite the functional and symbolic importance of driving, for many young people living with AS - a form of autism spectrum disorder that affects social and communication skills and coordination - learning to drive can be very challenging.

The Chair of Occupational Therapy, Professor Anita Bundy, said perhaps the biggest barrier to driving for young people with AS was increased anxiety.

"They also have trouble seeing the big picture and recognising the needs and positions of others," she said.

Based at the University's Cumberland Campus in Lidcombe, the program will provide participants with a minimum of 25 one-hour lessons with a specialist-trained driving instructor. These lessons will contribute to the supervised hours required by the RTA for learner drivers. Parents will also receive training in effective techniques for supervising their learner driver at home.

"The program is designed to address the particular learning difficulties associated with AS and was developed based on decades of clinical experience," Professor Bundy said.

Director of the Driver Rehabilitation Clinic, Beth Cheal, assures that all participants will undergo a series of tests with a specialist trained occupational therapist prior to receiving driver training to ensure that they are eligible to participate and that the program is tailored to their individual needs.

Furthermore, prior to taking the final RTA licensing test each participant will complete three additional lessons and a practice test with their driving instructor.

"What we anticipate is that the young people involved in our program will pass the RTA road test on the first try at a higher rate than those without the program, and more importantly will have the skills and confidence needed to drive safely," Ms Cheal said.

Participant information: The Clinic is seeking young people aged 16 - 25 years, with a confirmed diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome who have passed the RTA knowledge test and have a Class C learner's license. Participants will be required to have functional English skills to participate.

Costs: Fees for the lessons are comparable to other driving instruction programs and including testing total $4,000.

Program contact: Beth Cheal, Acting Director, Driver Rehabilitation Clinic, 02 9351 9308.

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