When Other Teens Are Learning to Drive and Your Child Isn't

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Getting a driver's license is a rite of passage for most teenagers, and when a visual impairment prevents someone from driving, the feeling of disappointment can be intense. If your teen is visually impaired and can't meet the legal requirements for driving in your state, he may be experiencing a number of upsetting emotions and feeling left out of an important part of life.

Some teenagers won't believe that they don't have sufficient vision to drive a car. If your teen is one of those, you might want to take her to your local Department of Motor Vehicles for an eye exam. Hearing from an official source that she doesn't qualify may be easier on both of you, but be aware that your son or daughter may be distressed at this time. Alternatively, you and your teen may want to research the possibility of low vision driving.

Pros and Cons of Taking a Driver's Education Class

In some school districts, all students are required to take the in-class part of driver's education. You, your child, and other members of his educational team should discuss whether this is appropriate for him. There are pros and cons to consider.

Advantages

  • Learning the rules of the road
  • Recognizing the responsibilities drivers have while operating a vehicle
  • Getting a sense of being part of the driving world

Disadvantages

  • Feeling angry or depressed about not being able to drive
  • Feeling he or she is spending time learning things he won't have any use for
  • Hearing possible teasing from peers in the class

Strategies for Getting Around as a Nondriver

At first, your teenager may feel that not being able to drive is the end of a social life. But with your help, your teen can develop strategies for getting to desirable places.

  • At this point, your son or daughter may need more advanced orientation and mobility (O&M) skills. Now that he's older and approaching the end of high school, he understandably wants to be able to get around independently and confidently with his friends.
  • If your teenager could drive, would you help her with any of the costs of getting a car—for example, making the down payment or paying for insurance? If so, consider taking the same amount of money you would have spent on those expenses and opening a transportation account for her at a local bank. That will give your teen several options, such as:
    • Hiring someone to drive her to activities and events that are important to your child.
    • Taking taxis.
    • Being picked up and brought home in a friend's car, with the understanding that she pays for the gas.
    • Even buying her own car that trusted friends can drive to take her to places they want to go together.
  • If your teenager is planning to move away from home after high school—because he wants to go to an out-of-town college or take a job in another area—encourage him to explore transportation options in that community before making a definite decision. There are various ways to do that sort of research, such as:
    • Talk with a local O&M instructor.
    • Use the Internet to get basic information about transportation options in specific towns and cities; post questions on message boards, and possibly take a virtual tour of various places.
    • Contact the office of services for students with disabilities at colleges he's considering.
    • Contact the human resources department of organizations he may be applying to for a job.
  • Suggest that your teenager talk with older teens or adults who are nondrivers because of their visual impairment. He may learn some useful strategies that they use for getting around in their communities.
  • When your teenager wants to go somewhere, encourage him to think about various practical ways he can get there. Is it within walking distance? Could he take a bus? Can he afford to call a cab? Each method of travel has advantages and disadvantages, and he needs opportunities to explore which method works best in a given situation.

Helping Your Teen See the Positive Side

As your teenager approaches the age when many of her friends are learning to drive and getting a license, try to remember that she'll probably feel some level of anger or depression. She's missing out on an important milestone in our culture. Remind her of the many other ways she's as mature and competent as any of the young adults around her. Help your teen to recognize that by using a variety of strategies to get where she wants to go, she's demonstrating her ingenuity and ability to overcome limitations. She's achieving independence that doesn't depend on driving a car.

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