Teaching Teens with ADHD How to Drive
Let’s get started. And if you happen to have wondered by this article and your teen doesn’t have ADHD, these tips will be helpful for them as well. But our primary focus is with teaching teens with ADHD.
Start Early and Start with Conversations
You can begin teaching your teen with ADHD how to drive long before he is old enough to get a learner’s permit, and I highly recommend that you do. I started with Ben around age 14. As you drive with your teen in the car, begin to strike up conversations about the laws of the road. And help him reason through why these laws are in place. Of course, safety is a major factor. But there’s also logic behind them. Start speaking aloud what you’re doing while driving and why you’re doing it. Point out that you are looking farther up the road than the car in front of you and why. Talk about why you are changing lanes, slowing down, speeding up, stopping at a crosswalk, turning right on red, or taking an alternate route during rush hour.
Giving your teen with ADHD plenty of time ahead to study will help better prep your student driver for the test later, and it will also encourage conversation now. This is super helpful not just for your teen with ADHD, but for any student who is somewhat anxious or takes a while with grasping concepts. It can only be in their favor if they have plenty of time to learn the rules. And it will help with my next tip.
- There’s ice on the road and the vehicle starts to slide . . . what do you do?
- The vehicle in front of you darts through a yellow light, and you’re right behind it. What should you do?
- You’re running behind for an appointment. What are some steps to take before getting into the vehicle?
- Your vehicle gets a flat tire while driving. How do you handle this?
- There’s a passenger who is distracting you while driving. What are options to handle this?
- You notice a driver sitting in your blind spot. How do you handle that. What if a driver is tailgating you?
Assess the Readiness of Your Teen with ADHD
Hire a Driving Instructor
Teaching any teen to drive is not for the faint of heart. Teaching a teen with ADHD how to drive can literally feel like you’re going to have an anxiety attack on a daily basis. If this is something you may not be able to handle well, it’s a good idea to rely on someone else. I did the majority of Ben’s driving instruction, but there were a few things that made me more nervous than others – driving on the expressway (65 mph never seemed so fast!) and driving downtown (we live in a large-ish city) were among them. So, I hired a defensive driving instructor to give Ben 4 lessons (2 hours each). She did the hard stuff with her passenger side brake ready to help and I focused on the city and suburban driving, where it seemed less risky.
Other options may include your spouse, another family member, or a trusted close friend. In any case, think about what’s best for your teen with ADHD. He or she will need an adult who can remain calm and be an encouragement. This is not the task to hand off to the anxious or short-tempered parent or family member.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Your state will dictate the minimum amount of time your student will need to practice driving under a permit with an adult present in the car. But remember, a minimum is just that.
Give Your Teen with ADHD Plenty of Time in the Driver’s Seat
It is likely your teen with ADHD will need to have more practice than the minimum. In our state, once the written permit test was passed, the student driver has to wait 6 months to test for a licence. During that 6 months, he must get 60 hours of driving completed, including 10 nighttime hours. Ben spent 9 months with his permit and had well over 100 hours of driving instruction. This wasn’t because he wasn’t doing well. He’s actually (and truth be told, surprisingly) a really good driver. But he knew his own limitations and was not 100% confident after just 6 months. So it was his own decision to get more experience with me in the car with him. You may need to assess this yourself, depending on how self-aware your student is, but never feel rushed to move him into driving alone before you are BOTH ready.
Let Your Teen Be Your Chauffeur
Allow your student to drive any time you’re both in the car, and for at least 20 minutes at a time. This will help train his focus and attention while driving, as well as giving him more experience in different driving scenarios. As I’ve already mentioned, the more time they have to practice with you, the better.
Be sure to map out every single opportunity your student can practice driving. In this way, you can get an overview for how long it may take your student to accumulate the necessary hours in conjunction with your budget or schedule. This is an important life skill to develop. Also be sure to consider different types of driving (city, highway, rural, suburban, lots of traffic signals, higher speeds, curvy roads, changes in speed limits in a short few miles, parallel parking, backing into parking spaces, parking lot safety, etc.). It takes different skill sets for all of these and you’ll want your teen with ADHD to learn as many skills as possible while he has you in the front seat with him.
Distracted driving is the number one cause of accidents for EVERYONE, not just teens or teens with ADHD. So minimizing distractions is your number one priority. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is the mobile phone. Everyone has one these days (and truthfully, you’ll likely feel better if your teen has one, too), but there must be clear limits to cell phone use in the car.
Each individual is unique. Surprisingly to some, music helps some people focus better while they drive. While it’s the opposite for others. As your students become more experienced drivers, maybe consider if this will help keep focus on their driving.
A Word about Auto Insurance
As an aside, you’ll need to consider how you will handle driver’s insurance. In our state, the student is automatically covered by his parents’ insurance while he has a learner’s permit. He only needs to be added as another driver (or obtain his own insurance) once he has a license. Whatever the laws may be in your state, be aware that your rates will likely increase once your teen driver becomes licensed. While some parents will pay for the increase, others will require their student driver to get a job and pay for it themselves (this was the case for Ben). Either way, shop around for the best deal ahead of time. And be sure to ask about discounts for good grades and driver’s education completion.
How to be a Good Driving Instructor
This part can’t be neglected. How do you as a parent keep your self calm when your life is in the hands of the student driver? Here are some things I found very helpful.
- Begin by explaining that you’re going to make suggestions that they need to pay attention to. These aren’t optional. You have the responsibility to teach them.
- Have a Plan B. This is a simple plan whereby if it gets too intense and someone’s about to lose their cool, anyone can call Plan B and the lesson is over.
- In the beginning, keep to the easiest driving routes and those most familiar. We started in large parking lots where there was plenty of empty space, park roads during off-hours, and our neighborhood streets. Once you build confidence with their ability to handle the car in these places, slowly begin to expand your route. Layer your lessons. Keep to the most familiar roads in the beginning.
- Always stay as calm as possible, but when those moments come where you’ll need to scream, “BRAKE!,” apologize for yelling and continue on. This will likely happen. Perhaps more than once. It will upset your teen. He may even refuse to drive with you for a day or two. It’s okay. Explain why you were scared. Use it as a teaching moment. Apologize again for yelling. Forgive yourself.
- Pray. Pray for your driver, pray for safety, pray for strong communication skills.
And They’re Off . . .
The day will come, and sooner than you think, when your teen will pass that driving test and begin driving on his own. The first time he backs out of that driveway for his first solo drive, it won’t matter if this is your first child or your fifth, it’s a big deal.
Here’s what you’ll experience emotionally:
- First, you’ll be glad they can do that errand for you. Yay!
- Second, you’ll recall that bad driving habit they have and worry. Boo!
- Then you’ll convince yourself they’ll be just fine. Whew!
- Suddenly you’ll remember all the people on the road who can’t drive. Gasp!
- You’ll leave it in God’s hands. Pray.
All of this emotion will happen in about 2.2 seconds. You might even search Facebook for a “Mom of Teen Drivers” support group.
My best advice? Install Life 360 on your phones (or if you’re an Apple family, get familiar with the “Find My iPhone” feature). You will stalk your new driver for weeks (okay, months) to make sure he gets to his destination safely, because trust me, your teen with ADHD will not remember to text you when he gets there. It’s okay. You’re normal. Or if you’re not, none of us are.
In the end, once they are on their way, you can continue to remind them of things (“Did you remember to …”) in a helpful way. Be understanding when mistakes happen or if a fender bender occurs. Let them sit in the passenger seat now and then and continue to model good driving.
Rules to Follow
Be sure you have a few rules in place to help your driver continue to be safe when you’re not there to watch. Here are a few we have in place (some were mandated by law in the beginning, and some were our personal preference):
- No texting or other cell phone use once the car is moving (if you want music, son, start it playing before you leave the house). If you need to send a text, pull the car over first.
- For the first 6 months, no passengers that are not one of your parents. After 6 months, if there were no tickets or accidents, you may have one friend in the car with you. Never more than one.
- No eating while driving.
- For the first 6 months, limit late night driving, especially on weekends, to only work-related jaunts.
If your teen is on ADHD medication, compliance is not an option. If your teen is driving during hours not covered by his medication (ie: to and from work), discuss this with his health practitioner. Adjustments may need to be made.
Tips for Homeschool Moms
If you happen to be a homeschool mom, then please remember to give your teen 1/2 credit for Driver’s Education on their transcript. Driver’s Ed can count as an elective. If you feel you need something more “official” check out DriversEd.com and see if your state participates with this online resource.
DriversEd.com is the leader in drivers education, with a mission to bring you the most effective drivers ed courses on the market. You’ll find an interactive curriculum designed to teach rules of the road for your state. Everything your teen needs to pass the permit exam is covered.
More than anything, be encouraging and supportive of your teen driver. And patient. Remember that things may take longer or be harder. But just like everything else, you will get through it together. Make sure he knows and believes that. Ben has been driving now for two years without any speeding tickets and the only minor accident he was involved in was not his fault. There is hope for your teen with ADHD to become an excellent driver, too.