Is an Autism Diagnosis a Good Idea: The Driving Dilemma?
Recently, information has come to light that the Assessing Fitness to Drive (AFTD) (National Transport Commission (NTC), 2022) guidelines not only require medical conditions such as epilepsy and diabetes to receive medical clearance but also autism. Specifically in Queensland, according to the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR), drivers with autism are required to receive medical clearance from a doctor or risk receiving a $9,288 fine and licence cancellation. Unfortunately, however, significant amounts of this information has been misrepresented by individuals sending parents and clients alike into a state of disarray as they wonder what to do about supporting their children and also not taking away something that is so important to one’s future – their ability to drive. This means that parents are faced with a decision on their hands and often wondering how to go about making the correct decision for their child. So let’s explore some of the questions you may be asking as you attempt to make this difficult decision.
What do the guidelines actually say?
Firstly, let’s look at the facts. According to Queensland Government (2003), it is only necessary to report the presence of autism to TMR only if the severity of their diagnosis is going to impact safe driving. Therefore, not every person with autism is required to report their autism to TMR. It is only those whose symptoms are of significant severity that they are going to have a significant impact on their ability to drive. It is likely that their GP, psychiatrist or psychologist will be able to help them determine this and it is likely that these individuals will already be requiring significant support.
What’s the problem anyway?
One big question that people are asking is why? How on earth does autism impact an individual’s ability to safely operate a vehicle? According to Ali et al. (2020), individuals with autism do have difficulty with crossing the midline. The midline refers to the imaginary line that divides the body into left and right. When individuals have difficulty crossing this midline, difficulties with turning corners and staying in lanes can occur. Additionally, concerns can occur if the individual has severe sensory sensitivities or difficulties managing emotions which can result in meltdowns behind the wheel of a car.
What are the positives of getting a diagnosis?
One of the biggest reasons to undertake an assessment for diagnosis is for the provision of support. In receiving a diagnosis you or your child may be able to access supports such as NDIS (but again, this is a case by case situation and does not apply to all people with autism). Additionally, employers may be able to alter your job requirements to benefit the needs you have as someone with autism. It is likely to help employers also understand why you do get overwhelmed sometimes when change has occurred with short notice or you are suddenly surrounded by lots of people and loud noises.
The most commonly asked question is what about school? Do I get support from school if I get a diagnosis? Well…no you don’t need a diagnosis to get support from school. According to Education Queensland’s Inclusion Policy (2021) all students are able to participate in learning and be “supported by reasonable adjustments and teaching strategies tailored to meet their individual needs”. A learning adjustment needs to take into account the learning needs of an individual and the staff but essentially no need for a diagnosis is listed. Simply that a justification of a learning need is able to be established be it by a psychologist, guidance officer, teacher, inclusion teacher, paediatrician etc. Please note, however, that a diagnosis while attending university and TAFE can provide support through disability support services.
The biggest reason that people often present for a diagnosis is that sometimes they just want to know what is going wrong. Sometimes it simply provides a sense of relief to an individual to know and understand what is happening to them and in some cases know that there are others like them. Thus, sometimes receiving a diagnosis removes half the anxiety they are experiencing as they can now work out how to approach the problem.
What are the negatives of getting a diagnosis?
Well, as we’ve established above, if your autism is severe enough yes you may have to report it to TMR (remember this won’t be everyone!). Also, unfortunately, despite the gains we have made as a society we do live in a very judgmental and discriminatory world. Having a diagnosis of autism, as much as it creates understanding in some it can also create discrimination in others. It’s important to be open that people may have difficulty obtaining some job positions not because of discrimination but simply because of job requirements, for example, the armed forces.
Can I access Psychologists for counselling for autism without a diagnosis?
Yes, yes, yes and YES! As a psychologist, we don’t need you to have an official “label” to receive counselling for the condition. Simply my observations and discussions with you will help me determine what we need to work on.
So what do I do?
As much as I can’t make the decision for you, I am more than happy for you to come in and have a chat with me about what would be best for you as it really is a case by case situation. Come on in, leave your child at home and we can talk through whether you need the diagnosis or whether it would just be best to go ahead with treatment for a suspected diagnosis.
Author: Sharyn Jones, B Psych (Hons), MTeach (Pri).
Sharyn Jones is a Brisbane psychologist with 10 years of experience working with adults, adolescents, children and their parents. Using a combination of cognitive behavioural and solution focused therapies, she aims to facilitate positive changes in client’s lives so that they can achieve and obtain their desired goals.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422 or M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.
Ali, J.B., Charman, T., Johnson, M.H., Jones, E.J.H. & the BASIS/STAARS Team (2020). Early motor differences in infants at elevated likelihood of autism spectrum disorder and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 50 4367-4384.
National Transport Commission (NTC) (2022). Assessing Fitness to Drive. Austroads Ltd. Sydney
Queensland Government (2023). Medical fitness to drive. https://www.qld.gov.au/transport/licensing/update/medical/fitness Queensland Government (2021). Inclusive education policy. https://ppr.qed.qld.gov.au/pp/inclusive-education-policy