For me, having ADHD means it’s more difficult to pay attention to things. I was diagnosed when I was 6 years old when my parents and teachers noticed I had trouble paying attention when spoken to directly.
In school (at least before I was on medication), I would zone out while the teacher was talking and not even realize it. Minutes could go by. It would take something exciting or someone calling my name to bring my focus back to the lesson.
TEENS WITH ADHD MORE LIKELY TO GET INTO CAR ACCIDENTS
When I was sitting in the classroom, no one was at risk for getting hurt when I was unfocused. However, the same cannot be said when behind the wheel of a car. When focus is lost while driving, the result can be catastrophic. In fact, teens with ADHD are 36% more likely to get into car accidents than other teenage drivers.
I was 17 when I got my license and first car. I was so excited for the freedom — to be able to drive myself to school and friends’ houses. I was also nervous, especially on the highway. I knew that losing focus on the highway could be more dangerous than losing focus on a side road.
Two months later, I got into a car accident. It was completely my fault. I wasn’t paying attention when making a left turn and hit an oncoming car head-on. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. But my car was totaled and my confidence was completely shaken. It took weeks before I was willing to sit behind the wheel again. My mom told me that I couldn’t keep holding back forever — eventually I would need to start driving again.
ENROLLED IN FOCALPLUS TEEN DRIVING TRAINING
I did start driving again, but I was still really hesitant, and refused to get on the highway. I knew that I needed to become a more confident driver. Around that time, I saw an ad for FOCALplus Teen Driving Training at Cincinnati Children’s. I read that the program would train me to limit extended glances off of the road by using driving simulation and eye tracking technology. Each of five weekly trainings would last about an hour and a half. That seemed like a lot of time, but if it helped me feel more confident, I figured it was worth it. So, I signed up.
And I’m so glad I did. The simulator looked and felt like I was driving — both on side roads and the highway. There was a steering wheel, windshield, mirrors, and a brake. I wore glasses that tracked my eye movement. While “driving,” the instructor would tell me to do things like find letters on a display in order to simulate what it was like doing something (e.g., adjusting the radio) while driving. Meanwhile, the glasses tracked my eyes and when I glanced away from the road longer than two seconds, an alarm would sound letting me know I looked away for too long.
After hearing that alarm a couple of times, I was sick of it and didn’t want to hear it again. If I looked at the side mirror, I would count in my head for two seconds to make sure I didn’t look away longer than that. The simulation essentially trained me to not look away from the road longer than two seconds. It helped me realize how and when I got distracted, and how to bring my focus back.
And for what it’s worth, I wasn’t taking my normal ADHD medication. I think this is an important distinction to make because teens often drive at night after our medication has worn off. These skills are important to learn with and without medication. Most notably, after the five-week session, I became more confident, even on the highway.
DRIVING NOW, FOUR YEARS LATER
I’m a senior in college now, studying to be a nurse. I’ve been driving for four years, and still use the training every day. I take the highway to get to school. When driving with friends — either when they’re driving or I’m driving — I remind them to limit the distractions. I won’t let them show me something on their phones, because I know I won’t get my focus back to the road within two seconds.
I encourage any teen who has ADHD to take this course! It is more difficult for us to stay focused than other drivers who don’t have ADHD. We learn differently than neurotypical teens, and this course helps us to grasp what our bad habits might be on the road, and how to fix them.