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

Getting a driver’s license is a rite of passage for most teenagers, and when an eye condition prevents someone from driving, the feeling of disappointment can be intense. If your teen is blind or low vision and can’t meet the legal requirements for driving in your state, they may be experiencing a number of upsetting emotions and feeling left out of an important part of life.

Some teenagers won’t believe they have insufficient vision to drive a car. If so, you might want to take them to your local Department of Motor Vehicles for an eye exam. Hearing from an official source that they don’t qualify may be easier on both of you, but be aware that your son or daughter may be distressed. Additionally, 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 must take the in-class part of driver’s education. You, your child, and other educational team members should discuss whether this is appropriate. 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 they are spending time learning things there will be no 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 they are older and approaching the end of high school, your child understandably wants to be able to get around independently and confidently with friends.
  • If your teenager could drive, would you help 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 at a local bank. That will give your teen several options, such as:
    • Hiring someone to drive them to important activities and events to your child.
    • Taking taxis.
    • Being picked up and brought home in a friend’s car, with the understanding that your child pays for the gas.
    • Even buying their own car that trusted friends can drive to take your child to places they want to go together.
  • If your teenager is planning to move away from home after high school—because they want to go to an out-of-town college or take a job in another area—encourage your child 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.
    • Contact the human resources department of organizations where your child may be applying to for a job.
  • Suggest that your teenager talk with older teens or adults who are non-drivers because of their eye condition. Some useful strategies may be learned for getting around in their communities.
  • When your teenager wants to go somewhere, encourage your child to think about various practical ways to get there. Is it within walking distance? Can you take a bus? Can you afford to call a cab? Each method of travel has advantages and disadvantages, and your child needs opportunities to explore which method works best in a given situation.

Helping Your Teen See the Positive Side

As your teenager approaches when many friends are learning to drive and getting a license, remember that your child will probably feel some level of anger or depression. They are missing out on an important milestone in our culture. Remind them of the many other ways they are mature and competent as any of the young adults around them. Help your teen recognize that by using various strategies to get where they want to go. Your child is demonstrating ingenuity and ability to overcome limitations. They are achieving independence that doesn’t depend on driving a car.

Activities You Can Do Today to Promote Independent Travel Skills

Teens who are blind or have low vision (and their parents) must make many transportation decisions. Will your child drive if they meet your state’s requirements? If not, how will they get around? Will they utilize a city bus or a hired driver? Driving represents a new level of independence and responsibility, and nondriving teens should experience similar milestones as their peers. The larger goals are to develop positive self-esteem as an active traveler and recognize the inner satisfaction of gaining personal independence.