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Teaching kids with LD to drive: A complex family matter

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By Melinda Sacks

Shop around before enrolling your teen in driver's ed

Before you embark on the driver's education road with your teen, be sure to check the requirements for the state where you live. Surprisingly, there is a fair amount of variation. Thirty-six states require teens to have a driving permit, 23 of them require the permit be held for at least six months before they can apply for a driver's license. Graduated licenses - those that allow a new driver incremental privileges to drive alone or carry passengers under age 21 - are increasingly common and also differ from one state to another. Even the age at which you can obtain a permit or driver's license differs across the country. Your local Department of Motor Vehicles can provide the specifics for where you live.

Driving schools also vary in approach and curriculum, although all are required to cover the same material in their final exams. Some courses, we found, are much more "friendly" to kids with LD, providing more interactive materials and experiences, including videos, computer simulations, and group work. Some contain just one final exam that encompasses the entire course curriculum, while others are broken into chapter tests.

You can also decide to conduct the driving lessons yourself, but we felt it was worth the cost to give Alex a professional introduction to driving.

Know your child and stay involved

As is true with many issues around parenting a child with LD, staying involved and applying what you know about your teen's strengths and weaknesses factor heavily into how you can help him learn to drive.

Knowing our son loves video games that glorify speeding, and in some cases, even crashing, we had long ago embarked on a heavy campaign to talk about driver safety. The fact that I had been in a serious car accident before I was married gave us plenty of ammunition for our discussions. On the road, we tried to point out mistakes other drivers made, and potential hazards such as kids on bikes, dogs near the road, and cars running red lights. Real driving, we said over and over, bears no resemblance to a video game.

We also repeatedly recited one line from Alex's driver education book describing driving a car: "Dangerous as a loaded gun if not operated properly."

Because Alex is such a weak reader, we were also concerned about how much he would digest from the home study driver's education booklet we chose. The 154-page soft cover book has fairly big print, which was a plus, but like all the home study books, it is quite text heavy.

Even though we knew it would take forever, we decided we would read the book aloud with Alex. Taking turns with the reading, then doing the chapter quizzes together, gave my husband and me a firsthand look at how well Alex understood the material. When he seemed to glaze over, we'd stop. We broke the lessons into small segments and did just a little at a time. We told stories about our own experiences as we read, hoping the real-life scenarios would help impress certain points upon him.

My brother, who has a dyslexic daughter, found that for her, an online course produced by was ideal because there was no big final test, just small quizzes along the way. The 30-day completion policy requiring students to complete the course within 30 days of when they started was great incentive for her to finish.

At our house I was in no hurry to put Alex behind the wheel, so the fact that there was no time limit and we could go at our own pace was a huge plus.

Comments from readers

"Great article, Melinda. We own a driving school in Michigan that specializes in helping kids with special needs learn to drive. It is amazing how little information there is about this subject (many of our customers were not even aware there were such services available, even after considerable searching). Good luck with your son. The golf cart is a good idea, but there are some reasonably good simulation programs out there as well. Mark Spruell "