First things first, if you don’t know what a 504 plan is, this is a quick place to learn the basic overview. Essentially, it’s a “formal plan that schools develop to give kids with disabilities the support they need.”
We can all use support, and hopefully you’re asking for support when needed, but our kids sometimes can’t even survive without support for their needs, hence the need to create a 504 plan with their school.
Michael has a 504 plan at his high school, and we’ve recently updated it so that he can have additional time on all AP course exams for the next year. 504 plans have worked well for us throughout Michael’s school journey, and they’ve been relatively simple to put in place with each school he’s been to.
A 504 plan is a formal process that involves a school setting, but when I needed help with Michael driving, I used the 504 model to create a special plan for our family (that is in no way related to his formal 504 plan with his school). This driving plan is just for us.
Why I Created a Personalized Driving Plan in the First Place
I’ve continued to struggle with the whole driving issue pertaining to Michael.
Insert moment of silence and deep breath cuz it’s still a thing.
You can learn more about that issue here if you missed it, but essentially, Michael totaled my car while practicing driving one day last December.
I haven’t been comfortable letting him drive again. After taking a few months off, we decided he must start driving again because I was delaying the inevitable, and every single piece of advice was to get him back behind the wheel.
I wanted to start fresh (I know I keep referencing “I” even though this driving thing is about Michael, but I’ll tell you very clearly that having your child drive your car, especially after they’ve totaled your last one, is mostly about you) so we began again as we did when he first started to drive. He would drive to his school parking lot, practice parking and backing out, and then he would drive home. Note: his school is about 2 miles away, the top speed limit is 45 mph, and it’s a 2-lane road. It’s a kind, easy, and quick drive.
He also took three personalized driving lessons while I struggled with the results of the accident and the new car. At the end of those lessons, the instructors were all, “Lady, he drives great. We have no idea what you’re so worried about.” It wasn’t exactly like that, but that’s how it felt to me.
It wasn’t long before he made another driving choice that was concerning to me. Nothing eventful happened, and we got home just fine, but it didn’t feel totally “right” and not at all “safe.”
I went for a long walk after that particular drive because I knew I had to make a choice, but I had no idea what to do.
His meds seemed fine, but his reaction to the change in our route that day was clearly difficult for him, and thus, for me.
Voila! I figured out a plan that would work really well for me! I’d create a personalized 504 plan with the knowledge that these plans are simply meant to give support when needed.
I needed support and Michael needed support–so we’d make a plan!
Driving is a privilege, and I want Michael to continue with that privilege. I also want him and everyone else on the road to be safe. I also, also want to feel safe and confident with him driving, and I want him to feel safe and confident while driving so . . .
He can still drive but with limits that feel good to all of us! Win-Win!
The basics from my made-up 504 plan are as follows (these plans can always be updated as needed, which is one of the greatest parts of a successful 504 plan):
- He gets to drive to school anytime. He knows the turns, speed limits, and distances, so all good there.
- He can drive home from school, but only if we agree to the exact route with no surprising turns. There are a few ways we can get home from his school, so it matters which way we decide. He will share with me what directions he’ll take, and then we’re all good there.
- If he drives somewhere besides school, we will look at a map and decide precisely what roads he will take. These will be back roads (no highways or roads over 45 mph) with traffic lights for any turns needed (except for easy right turns). GPS is one of the greatest inventions ever!
- No highways until we both agree he’s ready.
Those guidelines help us to both feel safe and happy while he’s driving.
That’s the goal, beautiful person, to create plans and processes that work with your family’s current skills and abilities that help you feel confident, happy, and grateful!
Maybe after college driving will be easier and safer. And maybe he still won’t be ready at that time. Either way is perfect because, again, “success” is however we define it for us.
Like driving or cooking or writing or speaking or quickness or our interactions with others, our abilities can steer our lives to work for our benefit. With this awareness and knowledge, we get to choose how to best utilize our strengths and how to accommodate our weaknesses.
Hugely Important Things to Remember!
- You’re in charge. This means that you get to make decisions that work for your family. This personalized plan for our family involves other people’s lives, so it’s a bit easier to justify than, say, visiting another family who might not understand what it’s like to have an autistic person to care for.
- Other people have opinions . . . but you’re still in charge. You listen to friends and family and you pay therapists and doctors to help guide you with medications and behavior reviews and changes, but again, you’re in charge. If something doesn’t feel right, when people you fully trust (or pay to give you advice) share something that is contrary to what you feel is best, then you still get to make the final choice because you’re in charge. They’ll absolutely support you and help how they can if they’re invested in your family’s success.
- You have full permission to make the choices that are right for you and your family. So often we don’t feel like we have permission to do a certain thing or make a specific choice that we know is right, especially if someone we trust is telling us the opposite. We have to trust our instincts much of the time while raising our children on the spectrum. So . . . permission granted!
- Life is going to happen, and you’ll continue to do the best you can in each moment. And so will I. <3
So much love and support to you,
I thought of another thing while writing this post: the UK currently has a law and fine consequence associated with autistic people driving, though I think there’s movement to get it removed right now based on discrimination. Sigh–these things are super sticky, but I figure the truth is always the best way through anything.