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Uncontrollable fear and anxiety in learning to drive

McG

Member
Hello all.
I have recently joined this forum which is fantastic. I have not been formally diagnosed with Autism or its variables.
But having felt 'different' for many many years has lead me down the path to seeking help.
One of the many issues I have always had has involved my inability to learn how to drive. I am 41 and have always struggled with many things and especially the issue of learning to drive.
I find even writing this hard to do, the thought of been behind a wheel makes me not only nervous, but light headed, sick to my stomach and an overwhelming sense of brain fog and complete inability to do something which most adults take for granted.
Of all the concerns I have, this would be one of the main ones. Im not sure if its simply a lack of confidence etc or something more deep rooted.
I can do most things in life like hold down a job, raise a family, buy a house etc. But some things I cant get my head around, never could.
I suppose i am looking for some degree of reassurance that i am not the only one who feels confronted by such things and if there is an explanation, it would make me feel more comfortable, happy and content in my own self worth and being.
thanks all.
 

Judge

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
I find it hard not to consider driving to be a neurological challenge on multiple levels. Where the only real answer to success lies in persistence and practice. 52 years later I still feel uncomfortable in backing out into a roundabout, or even maneuvering within a grocery store parking lot, where I sometimes have to look out for vehicles coming from four directions at the same time. It is taxing on one's eyes and mind to keep up in real time. You aren't imagining this.

The challenge is simply to accept it for what it is over time and lots of practice.

Perhaps the best analogy is to consider learning to drive a manual transmission vehicle. When many people have a terrible time learning to shift and use a clutch at the same time, apart from steering and acceleration. More multitasking that gives many autistic people a lot of discomfort. Including me.

But I simply stuck with it, eventually doing all those functions at the same time without really thinking about it. Where it just becomes second nature. But IMO the bottom line in operating a motor vehicle requires a great deal of practice, without giving up. The more you drive, the better you'll feel about it, and the more experienced you will get. In spite of all the multitasking involved.
 

MNAus

Well-Known Member
Is there also perhaps a fear of the consequences of mistakes here? People with autism can over-analyse the potential consequences of their actions and have quite black/white and catastrophic thinking. Do you envisage situations where it goes horribly wrong? For example, do you fear that you'd be the person who'd turn in front of a motorcyclist, or who accidentally runs a red light?
 

McG

Member
Yes to all of the above, i have had lessons in past and still had the inability to perform the tasks at hand. I do have a chronic fear that I am not in control and my mind turns to mush at the thought of even starting the engine. I haven't been diagnosed with anything, so I don't know if it's a complete lack of confidence or something else. Another point is I don't travel well as a passenger and at times have had intrusive thoughts about being a passenger and being the cause of an accident. Even writing this makes me feel queasy.
 

Rodafina

Hopefully Human
Staff member
V.I.P Member
I suppose i am looking for some degree of reassurance that i am not the only one who feels confronted by such things and if there is an explanation, it would make me feel more comfortable, happy and content in my own self worth and being.

I'm a bit confused... is learning to drive still on the table as something you are going to try to do? Or are you resigned to the fact that you will not be learning to drive?

Driving is one of the most dangerous things that humans engage in every single day and it makes sense to me that the idea of it could be extremely anxiety inducing for any conscientious person.

Being able to drive does not sound like a good measure of self worth. It sounds like you have many other skills and accomplishments in your life and hopefully you can find your worth in the kind of person you are and the relationships you have in your life.

I find even writing this hard to do, the thought of been behind a wheel makes me not only nervous, but light headed, sick to my stomach and an overwhelming sense of brain fog and complete inability to do something which most adults take for granted.

What you describe sounds similar to a panic attack. Have you ever sought help with this or applied basic anxiety/panic coping skills?

 

Crossbreed

Neur-D Missionary ☝️
V.I.P Member
I failed my driving test twice before I finally passed.
I have had a great driving record ever since.

Here are two things that you can do to get more comfortable behind the wheel,
  1. get a bicycle and ride it properly in traffic (it is easier to control and you will get a better sense of traffic rules & flow),
  2. practice driving a car away from traffic, like on an empty parking lot at night* (controlling the car will become second nature and you can devote more of your attention to road conditions, when you finally do venture out onto the road).
*For extra credit, you can set up a course using traffic cones to hone these skills. ;)
 

MildredHubble

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
There's a hell of a lot of things going on at any one time when driving on the road. It can be over stimulating at times and there's the unpredictability of just about everything within feet of your vehicle.

I felt very panicky at times when I learned to drive. One of the things that helped was learning how to interact with the controls of the car before I even took a lesson. I would just sit in my car for half an hour at a time and would work the pedals and the gear shift and imagine a scenario, like slowing down to meet stationary traffic or building up speed to join a motorway.

It might feel silly but it helps build muscle memory. One of the things I like about driving is the forward planning and the almost repetitive nature of operating the controls.

The trick I find is to look as far down the road as possible and try to predict any potential hazards and plan how I'm going to gradually alter my speed to compensate or prepare. Like I will think "The lights are green 50 yards away, they are probably going to change to red soon..." So I think to check my speed, assess if I need to change gear to keep that speed constant, what I will need to do if the lights turn amber (foot slightly off the gas, prepare to gently brake, foot on clutch to gradually go downwards through the gears, coast while fine tuning my braking pressure to come to a careful stop.

There are lots of hazard identification tests you can do online. A Google should bring some up that are suitable for your location. They basically show videos from the drivers point of view and you have to watch and identify hapless cyclists, pedestrians, trucks, traffic lights, blind junctions etc. You just click on the hazard usually.

The more you do this the more your confidence should increase. It's also beneficial to mime what you would do while doing the hazard identification checks. Again, I know it feels silly but if you can do it in private that will help. Once you start to react more naturally to the situation by basically increasing your exposure to the process of driving the less stressful it should feel and you might find you begin to look forward to it :)
 

Neri

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
I haven't got my license yet and I am 51. I live in a regional area, so it's fairly debilitating to not drive. I fully sympathize. I'm recently diagnosed with, not only Autism Spectrum Disorder, number two, but Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, combined types. So on top of the complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that I already had a diagnosis for, that all, is probably pretty causal in why I've hesitated, when it comes to driving. I'm going to get treated for the ADHD soon, which should help.

I think, if I were you, I would try to get to the bottom of WHY you might be struggling in this way. Maybe seek clinical help?

I know I do, struggle, that is, and I'm 10 years older than you, I've raised a big tribe of humans (7 of my own and a stepchild through adolescence). I've performed in front of 1000's of people. I know certain people admire me for both my parenting and artistic skills. I've given a lot of helpful peer support to other strugglers, but, I have a deficit in the driving department, that's a combination of early disadvantages and neurology.

So you have both a sympathetic and an empathetic ear, here.
 

marc_101

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
If you had replaced "learning to drive" with "getting on an airplane," it would have been sort of obvious that you have aerophia (fear of flying). Google tells me that there is also amaxophia or fear of driving, which have some variants:


So perhaps you could go the route of treating it as a phobia. There seem to be therapies for phobias that could be adapted to driving.

Hope that helps.
 

Levitator

Well-Known Member
Hello all.
I have recently joined this forum which is fantastic. I have not been formally diagnosed with Autism or its variables.
But having felt 'different' for many many years has lead me down the path to seeking help.
One of the many issues I have always had has involved my inability to learn how to drive. I am 41 and have always struggled with many things and especially the issue of learning to drive.
I find even writing this hard to do, the thought of been behind a wheel makes me not only nervous, but light headed, sick to my stomach and an overwhelming sense of brain fog and complete inability to do something which most adults take for granted.
Of all the concerns I have, this would be one of the main ones. Im not sure if its simply a lack of confidence etc or something more deep rooted.
I can do most things in life like hold down a job, raise a family, buy a house etc. But some things I cant get my head around, never could.
I suppose i am looking for some degree of reassurance that i am not the only one who feels confronted by such things and if there is an explanation, it would make me feel more comfortable, happy and content in my own self worth and being.
thanks all.

My mother never learned how to drive, and she claims it was a confidence-related issue. She's a really odd one, I get a lot of my traits from her, but I've always thought of myself entirely able. That is until I realized that I could literally not forge an enduring friendship in fifteen years if my life and others' depended on it. It's bizarre and eye-opening to realize that when you take a poll of some hundreds of people, they can all reject you and they can all neglect to tell you what the reason is. It's amazing just how many blows and knocks to my ego it took to convince me that there's something about me that nobody ever mentions, but it pushes them away. It's utterly insane how that works. It blows me away. They never sit down and explain to you that you have problems that are impoverishing your entire existence, because they each think they're the only one that treats you like dirt, and it doesn't matter.
Now, when I was a kid, a girl I wanted to date told me she didn't want me near her because I'm "not all there". That was shocking honesty! But it was so nasty, I never understood it or took it seriously. It's also wrong, because I'm here, and I wish I weren't here to feel the agony I do.
 

Kayla55

Well-Known Member
After my kids born it took long time for me to adapt to small town living, on recent trip to CPT I realised how busy traffic was and taxi and I used to do this all time.
Now I prefer slow life, take back roads past lake and stop to check view and you could do this.....and learn to drive on a sand road on the farm (no defensive driving involved which means accounting for other drivers) I have no insurance claims for long time, because slower you drive the easier you can stop and keep breaking distance which tricky when stuck in traffic.
Also take a break after learning to drive, this was good study technique for me and wish I knew when I was younger is schedule your test later. After learning, take a break and then come back to it and suddenly parallel parking is ace!!

Hope you enjoy getting around, we don't have efficient tube or transport system so walking is very slow.
 

Suzanne

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
I am a non driver. Did have a chance to practice and was told I could be a good driver, but only with automatic, due to not being able to multi task. I found in horrifyingly fascinating and was glad to get out of the car, to be able to breath.

So, I know the theory of driving, but have no chances to put it to practise.

Oh and not to worry about not being official yet. I came here as a self diagnosed aspie, until I received my formal diagnostic.
 

kenaij

AQ score: 38, Aspie Score: asp 142/200 nt 58/200
I do have my license and I got it pretty early on. But, it was a struggle to get. For me, the biggest part was not the driving itself but having someone next to you that is 'judging' you and is also talking while you are trying to keep track of everything going on on the road.
I failed my exam quite a few times because of the above reasons. I later tried to get my bus license but could not get through being with a driving instructor judging me again.
Some of that is still present. When driving alone I rarely get into situations where I seem to have misjudged the trafic and I never make certain small errors. But when someone is with me who is also talking to me I constantly make small mistakes and errors. I miss other drivers or other things I normally would not have. It is very annoying.

It might be the same for you?
 

AuroraBorealis

Well-Known Member
Hi McG, you're definitely not alone in this. I'm really scared of driving. I have my driver's license, but it took a considerable amount of stress and anxiety, and since then, I've been driving only a few times, each time was a celebration of sweat, hand shivering and nausea. I have taken a few driving lessons with a special driving instructor who's specialized in people with fear of driving, and it was okay, but she wasn't the perfect fit for me.
It's true, it's all about practice. It always gets a bit better after I drove a few times. But since I don't actually need to drive right now, I don't see why I should put myself into that stress and anxiety level regularly right now. I live in a big city where driving is a nightmare anyway.

I found out, though, that riding a bike regularly does help a bit. It was scary, too, in the beginning, but now, after years, I find myself basically completely relaxed while riding my bike within this crowded city (with in-ear headphones, that is, quiet enough to still hear my surroundings). I feel like my problem with cars is the feeling that I can't control it, plus I find it immensely hard to assess its dimensions, like, do I fit through there without hitting the other car? The main problem is really that it feels like the car is out of my control. And another problem is that I'm stuck in the car in difficult situations. Like, on a bike, I can always get off and sort out the situation on foot. In a car, there are lots of situations where you just have to handle it from within the car and you're kind of stuck there until you've figured it out. I find that terrifying.

I have felt awful and less worth for a long time because I wouldn't drive. But, by now, I've come to terms to it a bit. Everyone has other qualities. And driving a car is ****ing scary. That's just a fact.
I just want to be able to drive in an emergency, or a few hours down a highway when we're going on holidays, so that my partner doesn't have to drive for 10 hours straight. That's the only thing nagging me.
 

Aspychata

Serenity waves, beachy vibes
V.I.P Member
Right as a young kid, l was parallel parking my 10-speed bike. At Disney, l was thrilled with those little cars they had a cable. And l have spent time on thinking l would have raced cars if l could. So that test was just a hurtle to get thru. I have driven in England, now that was quite bizarre, because everything feels reversed as l am driving on the left side of car not the right. Anyways, just practice, practice, practice, and you will slay.
 

Kayla55

Well-Known Member
Spending most of my life undiagnosed was a blessing, because I didn't realise I had this asd and just learnt to drive like others.
Basic driving skills you are taught isn't good, I later on learnt more about breaking slowly and releasing and braking again as opposed to slamming on brakes. A I also learnt slow down and go around to prevent hitting something. I suppose it's advanced driving or experience.
One of tricks is to remember not to be distracted or play music because you must keep attention on the road, I keep a nice distance, drive bit slower than faster. Be calm, you can't worry what's down road, tackle this with reflex as I mentioned above on breaking.
I took long time to get clutch control but once learn controls and relax it's 2nd nature.

A psychology trick is objective perspective, if your parents treated you indifferently then it becomes a mold. Be positive, believe in your ability to do what you put your mind too.
I found it difficult to ride a horse because paddock horses get tugged all day and walk same path and don't listen.
Had horse run back to camp and couldn't reign him in, I never fell off but realising he wasn't going to stop I just focused on not falling.....
 

VAW

Well-Known Member
You are definitely not alone there. My son is 35 and has just started driving! HE HATES DRIVING!
The only reason he started driving was because of the winter weather, he would walk or ride his bike but in winter you can't be out in subzero weather and he got tired of his brother or sister taking him places. He tells me he will never like driving. Also for the past couple of years my daughter has been getting panic attacks when she is in the car, unless it is a short trip, like she only lives 10 blocks from work and that drive doesn't make her sick.
 

Kayla55

Well-Known Member
What actually causes accidents on road:
Talking on a fone, not paying attention to driving, speeding, drinking or eating snacks or vehicle that's not roadworthy.

So tyre tread is important but I found my old cars steering wheel was very loose for turning around on bends....so I was slowing down around bends unnecessarily in that I was in speed limit. So took car to mechanic who acted like I was crazy when insisted on having it tightened (not alignment but steering)

Women who do not place kids seated with safety belts, animals or child jumping on back seat???
Excessive noises or passenger talk that distracts best of drivers.

One highway out CPT is famous for drift winds, can either knock you out your lane or lift n flip the car. This is another example where learner drivers are not properly equipped to drive, as with comprehensive section on breaking.
 

Angular Chap

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
I never even considered trying to learn to drive a car, the thought scares me. I once went for a basic motorcycle license, just as more of a quick fix solution to avoid taking the bus, but one instructor called me a moron thinking I was out of earshot and another said I would be better off getting a bus pass.

I eventually did get a certificate from another training school, but the school was owned by a dealership and on the same premises so I'm pretty sure they only let me have a license because they knew I would go next door and buy a brand new motorcycle and all the gear.
 

Levitator

Well-Known Member
I do have my license and I got it pretty early on. But, it was a struggle to get. For me, the biggest part was not the driving itself but having someone next to you that is 'judging' you and is also talking while you are trying to keep track of everything going on on the road.
I failed my exam quite a few times because of the above reasons. I later tried to get my bus license but could not get through being with a driving instructor judging me again.
Some of that is still present. When driving alone I rarely get into situations where I seem to have misjudged the trafic and I never make certain small errors. But when someone is with me who is also talking to me I constantly make small mistakes and errors. I miss other drivers or other things I normally would not have. It is very annoying.

It might be the same for you?

Yep, driving with my parents was a disaster. I remember one time, I was taking a left turn, and my parents started screaming that I was turning into the oncoming lane, and I never figured out why they thought that. But since I didn't understand what they were screaming about, I pulled a totally illegal turn out of the turn lane and back into traffic, and then my dad attacked me for being an idiot, when it was their fault. You don't scream like that at someone who is trying to drive. It did teach me some discipline, though. You learn to shut out people who don't know what they're talking about. I haven't had an accident in decades, at this point, and I have a motorcycle, too.

The other thing is that it took me a bit to learn perspective, because when you make a (right) turn, you can't see through the metal of the door to gauge how far you are from the curb. You tend to want to keep the curb in sight so that you can see where it is. But my dad told me that I needed glasses and that I clearly couldn't see what I was doing. I'm going to stop because I don't want to start cursing in a place that keeps a pretty even keel. I contemplate getting an exercise bag as an outlet for frustration. It's healthier than raging online.
 

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