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On the Right Track: Teaching Your Teen With LD to Manage Travel and Transportation

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By Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D.

On the Way to Your Destination

  • Explain how to read Departure and Arrival boards in train stations and airports. By the time your child is in upper elementary school, you can teach lessons during your family trips, talking through the steps of traveling from door to door. For example, you might explain," Now that we're at this busy airport, we're going to hold on tight to our bags and wallets. The first step is to check in. We're flying on X Airlines. You tell me where the check-in counters are for our airline." Talk your way through checking the Departure board for your gate, going through security, etc. Point out who your resources are (e.g., employees behind the counters, people in airline uniforms).  If you don't travel regularly, take your teen on a "field trip" to the airport.
  • Model tying a colorful item to the handle of your suitcase when you check your baggage on family trips, and explain that practicing this strategy will make it easy for him to spot his own luggage in the baggage claim area when he travels on his own.
  • Discuss the importance of identifying appropriate resources in certain situations. "Think alouds" will help him understand your thought process. For example, you might say, "Okay, we aren't sure where the train station is. There's a policeman; I'll ask him if we're headed in the right direction." Explain to your teen that we all get lost or disoriented at times, and that asking for help is a sign of resourcefulness rather than weakness. If he has memory problems, suggest that he repeat the directions back or, better yet, carry a notepad and pen so he can write down the directions he hears.
  • Review safe pedestrian habits, particularly if your child has a problem with depth perception and may not be able to judge the speed of oncoming vehicles. Remind him that it's safest to use crosswalks and obey traffic signals to get from one side of a street to the other.

Special Advice for Drivers

  • If your child would like to learn to drive but you're afraid that he might not be able to master the necessary skills due to the severity of his LD or AD/HD, contact a large hospital rehabilitation center in your area for an assessment. By using simulators to test his reaction time, depth perception, and other related skills, professionals there can determine whether the disability is severe enough to prohibit him from getting his license. If he is found to have the potential to become a safe driver but in need of extra support as he learns, the rehabilitation center should be able to recommend a local driving school attuned to the needs of those who would benefit from special instruction due to disabilities.
  • If your teen does get a driver's license, teach him that there are both low tech and high tech ways to avoid problems. One high-tech item, a Geographical Positioning System (GPS), can help him avoid getting lost while on the road. A colorful cloth tied to the car's radio antenna is a low-tech aide that can help him locate a parked car.
  • Explain the importance of concentrating fully on driving at all times. Talking on cell phones or changing CDs while driving are dangerous risks and illegal activities in an increasing number of states. Model safe behavior by pulling over when you need to talk on your cell phone or when you want to find a particular CD.
  • Keeping a directions file in the car is very useful, particularly if directions both to and from the destination are explicitly spelled out. A folder of directions can be stored in the glove compartment.

On the Road to Independence

Perhaps no one activity more clearly represents independence than being able to travel around on one's own. Although there are many complex skills involved in travel and transportation, most teens with learning disabilities and AD/HD are able to learn them if they're given explicit training and support.

Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D., an expert on transition issues in special education, is a Professor at Lesley University, where she served as founding director of Threshold, a transition program for young adults with learning disabilities, from 1981 to 1996. She has served on the professional advisory boards of several national LD organizations and maintains a private practice in psychology.