Driving with Dyspraxia

5 min read
Dyspraxia causes one to have poor physical coordination, so is it possible for a sufferer to synchronise different parts of his or her body enough to drive a car? Experts say it is, with some extra care and effort.

Ever brushed off someone who constantly trips over a chair as a ‘klutz’? That clumsiness may be a sign of dyspraxia, a developmental disorder that significantly affects motor skills. Impairment of motor skills may affect achievement of developmental milestones such as walking and many aspects of daily life — from writing and using cutlery to playing sports and driving.

Many dyspraxics who are diagnosed as adults identify their disability through the persistent difficulty in learning to drive, while some are affected without knowing why.

WHAT IS DYSPRAXIA?
Dyspraxia is clinically referred to as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD). Globally, the prevalence rate among school-going children is 5–6%, affecting more boys than girls. It is also closely associated with other learning disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia.

Professor Amanda Kirby, founder of The Dyscovery Centre, relates dyspraxia to an umbrella diagnosis within which children show a range of co-ordination symptoms ranging from fine to gross motor skills. “The different patterned difficulties may present challenges in diagnosing dyspraxia,” she advises.

DYSPRAXICS AND DRIVING TESTS
According to the Dyspraxia Foundation in UK and US, driving is one of the most demanding everyday activities as it involves multi-tasking in areas requiring the use of both hands and feet, perception to judge distance, and carry out a sequence of activities, all at the same time!

While some may consider dyspraxic drivers a potential source of danger to themselves and others, no leading insurer has considered it a condition that can adversely affect one’s ability to drive. Hence, if a dyspraxic passes the driving test, he or she is considered suitable to take the wheel, with certain precautions. “An awareness of their abilities and weaknesses are important for them to be safe drivers. They must review available resources and find a combination of strategies that work well together to overcome their specific difficulties,” advises Ms Geetha Shantha Ram, Director of the English Language and Literacy (ELL) Division, SpLD Assessment Service and Staff Professional Development, Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS).

Some dyspraxics obtain their driving licence after much perseverance and support. IT worker Laurence Roberts passed his fifth driving test after two and a half years with a supportive driving instructor who willed him on despite their mutual frustration. Roberts continues to face problems with directions and requires a navigation system even to get to familiar places. He avoids parking in small gaps and pays particular attention to the details. He shares that his dyspraxic traits made him more vigilant when he was learning to drive. “I was obsessed with making sure I could see motorcyclists and cyclists,” he states.

Nurse Amy Cahill agrees that what people with dyspraxia lack in motor skills, they make up in tenacity. She refused to give up when told that she would never pass a driving test — and succeeded on her second attempt to prove her first driving instructor wrong! “The hardest thing for people with dyspraxia is trying to explain themselves to the instructor. Learning to drive is difficult — dyspraxics can only take one instruction at a time, not five or six instructions, but it can be done.”

On the other hand, feature writer SS Yoga never passed his driving test and decided that it was safer for everyone that way. “I can’t judge distances when it involves speed. Spatial relationships are a major struggle. I would get my left and right mixed up. And I could not figure out lateral images, so I never used the mirrors in the car,” he reveals. He would break out in a cold sweat after every driving lesson, and recalls that his driving instructor “had a perpetual look of fear on his face and a nervous laugh”.

TIPS FOR SAFE DRIVING WITH DYSPRAXIA

  • Practise observing traffic as a passenger
  • Practise driving on less busy roads to build confidence
  • Play video games to improve coordination and reactions
  • Use an automatic car instead of manual transmission
  • Add extra side mirrors and reverse cameras for parking
  • Use a GPS voice-assist software to help with directions
  • Mark the steering wheel with mnemonic devices (coloured stickers, letters, etc) to differentiate left and right
  • Plan trips in advance and rehearse important trips, such as the drive to the office and home, or to frequent medical appointments
  • Take frequent breaks
  • Share driving duties and take turns if concentration becomes difficult
  • Never drink and drive, even within the legal limit
  • Avoid driving while angry, overexcited or anxious, especially as an inexperienced driver
  • Memorise helpful markers and basic driving directions to and from important destinations to help with navigation, even if someone else is driving

PREPARE YOUR DRIVING INSTRUCTOR

  • Talk about your dyspraxia to help the instructor understand your needs and adapt strategies to help you, such as
    – physical cues to estimate speed and distance
    – frequent breaks to help with concentration
    – visual aids to explain the information
  • Explain your sensory issues, such as problems with glare or headlights
  • Ask for feedback often so that you get regular progress updates — because everyone learns at different rates

Ram concludes that there are successful personalities with dyspraxia such as actor Daniel Radcliffe, writer Jack Kerouac, and scientist Albert Einstein, who are all sources of inspiration for dyspraxics and their loved ones. As Radcliffe says, “Don’t let it stop you. It has never held me back, and some of the smartest people I know are people who have learning disabilities.”