Nov. 5, 2008 If your teen can’t pass a driver’s test, it might not mean more time in driver’s ed is needed. It might be due to ADHD.
Researchers from Tel Aviv University caution that ADHD, an attention deficit disorder common in teens, is a serious driver’s disability. To alleviate the problem, and to decrease ADHD-related road accidents and fatalities, Tel Aviv University has developed a new driver’s training program in collaboration with occupational therapy departments in affiliated Israeli hospitals. Connecting their own clinical research to advances in occupational therapy, TAU researchers have merged the two disciplines in a novel approach to treat drivers, old and young, with ADHD.
Speaking from Experience
Leading the new initiative is Dr. Navah Ratzon from TAU’s Department of Occupational Therapy. “There is no doubt in my mind,” says Dr. Ratzon, “that ADHD interferes with one’s ability to drive safely.
“The youth who fail their drivers’ tests over and over may be suffering from ADHD. Even if they eventually pass these tests, they’re still more likely than others to become involved in car accidents.”
Dr. Ratzon would know. She’s a mother of five who has a challenged ADHD driver at home. “One of my children suffers from ADHD. She’s a good driver technically but has done the most damage to my car,” says Dr. Ratzon. Responding to this need in her own family, she devised a straightforward therapist-supervised approach to re-training ADHD teens on how to drive. Her approach could save lives.
Get Treatment Before Getting Behind the Wheel
Many cases of ADHD remain undiagnosed. If you suspect that your teen may be one of the hundreds of thousands of youngsters with the condition, Dr. Razton suggests you take your child for evaluation by a specialist at a driving rehabilitation center before you let him or her get behind the wheel.
Using customized state-of-the-art tools, Dr. Ratzon and her colleagues at the Tel Aviv University-affiliated Rabin Medical Center have developed therapeutic guidelines for occupational therapists to follow. One way the TAU specialists “re-train” ADHD drivers is by creating “a systematic screening of the visual field.” Part of this screening includes a checklist of things every ADHD driver must do when driving. While these activities may come naturally to others, ADHD drivers need to remind themselves when to look at their mirrors or check for hazards on the road. This checklist helps keep the driver’s mind on the road, says Dr. Ratzon.
While most teens outgrow ADHD by their early twenties, the disorder can persist into old age. “While there are very few articles on ADHD and driving,” says Dr. Ratzon, “new research indicates that ADHD doesn’t really go away. People continue to suffer from its symptoms. Even those old enough to be grandparents can benefit from our new driver’s training program.”
Medication and Timing Help
Before drivers’ therapy, Tel Aviv University clinicians first recommend that those that have been diagnosed with ADHD take medication prescribed to them. Studies in America have shown that ADHD teens who take Ritalin or similar prescribed medications drive much more safely than those who don’t.
It is also important, Dr. Ratzon notes, that an ADHD teen learns which hours and circumstances are better for driving. Some ADHD drivers function better during long drives on country roads, where there are fewer distractions, rather than on short drives through the city. Some may drive better at night than during the day, says Prof. Ratzon. These preferences can be determined with the help of a driving rehabilitation center.
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