Dyspraxia & Me: Driving

Earlier this week the Driving Test in the UK turned 80 Years Old. The test was introduced on 1st June 1935 so I thought I’d blog about my experiences with Driving & The test as a Dyspraxic Adult – I meant to do this earlier in the week but, as a classic dyspraxic/dyslexic person, I forgot!

My driving journey started later than most – I decided not to start learning when I was 17 but i waited until I was 18. Like all young adults getting in the car for the first time was nerve wracking, even more so knowing how difficult i used to find it to even cross the road unaided some times as I couldn’t, and still can’t always, judge how fast cars are moving.

My first driving teacher was ok to begin with, but eventually we parted ways as I felt I wasn’t progressing (the insistence to ‘drive fast’ and only being taken down country lanes until I could was too much!). I went off to university and that was that for a little while.

In this time i sat my theory & hazard perception test, which I passed first time. I used the PC CD-ROM that was linked to the test over and over again until I managed to get to the pass rate. I found a lot of these things were common sense, especially when you’re learning to drive at the same time too. I wasn’t a massive fan of the books that went along with them, i would much prefer to do ‘mock tests’. It’s worth pointing out that if you are Dyslexic and you have proof, e.g. a statement from your school, you can apply for extra time and also to have the questions read out to you by the computer using a headset at the theory test center – I did this and found it helped as I was able to understand the question better.You can do this online when booking the test.

Whilst I was at University my Mum’s best friend’s husband started to learn to become a driving instructor and needed a ‘guinea pig’ – I was more than happy to oblige. This worked out fantastic for both of us; I had a tutor who didn’t know exactly what to expect with a student and he had probably the most difficult student he’d probably ever have (Sorry Steve!).

Finding the right instructor is paramount – and that’s what I got in Steve. He changed things to suit my learning style – everything became visual. Before learning a new maneuver he’d get out a white board – it started by drawing rectangles and showing how the car should move. Although it helped i still struggled to visualize where the car was going.

After a few lessons Steve got out a pack of toy cars with a ‘this may not work but lets try it’. We drew out the road where I was, or at least the lay out, put the car where it was stationary and then moved the car through the stages I needed to do. This was fantastic as I could see exactly what was expected and I manged to replicate it in the car. These toy cars where brought out every single lesson from then on in pretty much – and I know for a fact he’s still using this method with his pupils today.

Another thing I found difficult whilst learning to drive was lane discipline. This was overcome by a small sticky dot on the inside of the windscreen which, if i was driving correctly, should line up with the white lines on the road – it certainly helped. I also had sticky dot for bay parking so i could visualize where the line should be for me when reversing into a spot.

It wasn’t all plain sailing when it came to the test either; it took roughly 2 years from the start of my journey to having the confidence to sit my first practical test. The first one i failed after driving only to the end of the road by the test center (probably a record!). I got to a roundabout and misjudged how fast a car was coming round and went for it – for the examiner to then use their emergency break, causing automatic fail, although i had to finish the test. The second one O failed too – right at the end of the test, on the last roundabout before going back to the center; i saw the hazard but the examiner saw it first and used the brake for me, another automatic fail. It was third time lucky, even if there was a few minors and a ‘questionable’ major (which the examiner finally deemed it wasn’t at the end of the test!). I passed in July of 2011.

I then decided to buy myself a car, which i still drive to this day!

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It’s a beautiful little KA – I call it my TARDIS. I’m a huge DR Who fan, it’s the same colour as his Time.And.Relative.Dimension.In.Space machine and it really is bigger on the inside!

Now I’ve been driving for nearly 4 years, I find it’s easier – as it becomes for every driver. I now don’t have to think as much about things like gear changes, although I still find lane discipline can be a little difficult (i haven’t put a spot on my car, but if i’m having a bad day i know roughly where the line should be).

I still sometimes find night driving to be a challenge. Due to the scotopic sensitivity I sometimes find other car headlights to be too bright, like they are on main beam when I know they aren’t. I also find it harder to judge distance during the evening, as my boyfriend found out – I drove him home through a country lane, I came over the brow of a hill and panicked as I thought I had to drive through a busy road! Turns out it was just a bridge of the M42 going over the road I was on but I had a full on panic in the car as I thought I was going to crash into it, much to his amusement (I’m not allowed to forget this!).

I now really enjoy driving, locally anyway – i’m not a fan of motorways.

To any Dyspraxic who’s thinking about driving but isn’t sure the advice I’d give them is:

  • To talk to your instructor and be upfront with them before you start – they’ll notice that your finding it difficult if you are and will be trying to figure out why. If you tell them before you start about your Dyspraxia, even if you have to explain what it is a little (i suggest using examples of co-ordination & spacial awareness in this situation), it takes out the guess work out!
  • If something doesn’t make sense to you linked to what you’re being taught ALWAYS tell the instructor this – they won’t mind, actually they’d prefer it. You’re in charge of a potentially dangerous machine behind a wheel of a car and they want to make sure your safe – and you can only be safe if you’ve fully understood. If you learn best in a particular way, tell them (like i said i found the toy cars particularly useful, feel free to ask them to do this for you too if you think it will help!).
  • Go for it and try your best – you never know what you’re capable of until you try!

Hannah

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