When Your Teen Driver Has ADHD (Some Tips for Success)

When Your Teen Driver Has ADHD (Some Tips for Success)

Most teens look forward to getting their driver’s license, even when they don’t plan to get a car of their own. The increased independence the license allows is another mark of growing up.

And that’s a good thing, even if parent do experience worry each time their teen goes out on their own. The best of driver education for teens in the Chesapeake, VA area cannot provide all the experience adult drivers have — the only way to get experience driving is to drive.

But some teens may have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and parents (and maybe even the teens) may be concerned how the ADHD will affect their driving — both learning to drive and driving on their own.

Teens (and adults) with ADHD can both learn to drive and become excellent drivers. Here’s a short guide with some things to expect and ideas to make driver education work in the ADHD context.

What is ADHD, and how does it affect driving?

ADHD is a neuro developmental disorder which generally has three common symptoms. There’s difficulty in regulating attention, hyperactive behavior, and a tendency to impulsive behavior. While some people only have trouble regulating attention, most display all three symptoms.

  • Attention regulation — while most people might think of this as the inability to focus and pay attention, especially to tasks which are “boring” or “repetitive”, attention regulation includes other attention issues. Many people with ADHD may hyperfocus on something they find interesting, such as video games. This can sometimes lead others to think that attention and focus are choices.
  • Hyperactivity — Hyperactivity usually comes along with impulsivity. Hyperactivity can show up in many forms, including fidgeting, excessive talking, frequent running, inability to engage in a quiet activity, and frequent touching.
  • Impulsivity — Most of us are impulsive from time to time, but ADHD can cause constant, repetitive impulsive behavior, including acting before considering consequences, blurting out answers, inability to wait in line, and making decisions which are clearly impulsive.

All three of these symptoms can run interference with driving.  Drivers need to be focused on the task at hand — and sometimes driving can be “boring” or can cause over-focus on one thing. Driving requires sitting fairly still for extended periods of time. Finally, impulsive drivers can put themselves and others into harm’s way.

Parents and teens are right to be concerned about the intersection of driving and ADHD. Accidents are the largest cause of death for young adults, and inexperience is probably a major factor in those accidents. Impulsivity and low attention regulation can combine with inexperience in very unfortunate ways.

What can parents do to help their teens with ADHD to be safe drivers?

Fortunately, parents can be strong partners in the process to get their teens ready to drive. Parents, of course, should be involved in their teen’s driver education, and ADHD simply reinforces the need for that involvement.

Parents should first make sure their teen is ready to drive. Include a consultation with your physician as part of the process. You may also want to get input from behavioral therapists or a driver rehabilitation specialist to help determine your teen’s readiness.

Parents can also begin the process early — both for driving and for living — by creating household rules and behavior patterns which will earn driving privileges if attended to. Some ideas which might help parents determine readiness include:

  • Following checklists of daily routines, including expected chores and tasks.
  • Establish an incentive system to reward current behavior as well as build towards a “yes” for driving — you might provide coupons for desired rewards in the present.
  • Connect the driving privilege with behavior. Your teen doesn’t need to be perfect, but they do need to demonstrate that they are working hard to manage the negative components of their ADHD (and, since many with ADHD are very creative, enjoy that positive component).
  • If you are in an area where you have access to private backroads, you can start on behind-the-wheel training even before the permit shows up — if your teen has demonstrated good behavior.
  • Once you set lines, stick to them — if you say that your teen can get the permit if they live up to the expectations you’ve set, then stick to it.

A driving contract for teens with ADHD (and maybe those without it, too)

Set clear rules for when they do have their license. These rules can be be in the form of a driving contract which you and your teens will follow. Some items which should be addressed in the contract are:

  • Rules on ADHD medication and driving
  • Permitted destinations
  • GPA and school behavior
  • Curfews
  • Trip planning
  • Telephone use

Include other issues that may apply in your family.

Include commentary drives into your routine

One newer technique which needs some consideration is the commentary drive. A commentary drive is simply a drive in which you narrate what is going on and what you’re doing as you drive. Drivers can do commentary drives, but you can begin the practice with your teen in the passenger seat, and have them describe what they see and what’s going on.

If you are going to make a turn at the next light, let them know — and have them tell you what they see and what they’d do.

Commentary drives do assume that the person doing the commentary knows something about driving — but you can start early with that practice, or do them during the course of your teen’s driver education program.

During a commentary drive you would say things like

  • “That driver looks like they’re trying to find an address, because they’re going 15 in a 25, and sometimes pull over towards the curb.”
  • “I see the light ahead turning yellow, so it will be red by the time we get there.”
  • “In the next block, I see children playing in the yard. I need to keep an eye out for them because one might run into the street.”
  • “I’m making a right turn here, but there is a woman waiting to cross the road, so I will stop and let them go before I turn.”

Commentary drives can work with teens with ADHD. They help with situational awareness as well as creating an internal dialogue which can boost focus while driving.

Teens with ADHD are teens — teach them to drive

Your teens with ADHD are teens first. They have the same desire for independence (in safety) as their peers. You can prepare them for their driver education in Chesapeake, Virginia easily and readily.

While you might prepare them differently than teens without ADHD, most of the adjustments you make will be minor. They will also give you a better relationship with your teen, and help them to find strategies to work with the way their ADHD affects them.