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A lesson for autistic motorists

Young drivers take safety class at College of the Canyons

Posted: September 16, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 16, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Fernando Ponce leads a driving-safety class for those with autism Saturday afternoon at Celebrate My Drive, at College of the Canyons.

 

For Chris Clark, Saturday wasn’t just a day for putting on a driving-safety event, it was about filling a niche.

Hosted at College of the Canyons’ Valencia campus, Celebrate My Drive was put on by the Tierra del Sol Foundation – of which Clark is chief development officer – and State Farm Insurance. When doing research, Clark found that no driving-safety events were done nationally for autistic drivers. Saturday’s event was his opportunity to change that.

Clark’s foundation, based in Sunland, works primarily with those with autism.

“We know they’re going to drive,” he said. “It turns out young people with autism can be safer drivers (because of their adherence to rules).”

Events such as Saturday’s are also important for informing the public and changing possible misperceptions of autism, said Steve Miller, executive director of Tierra del Sol.

“I think this community will be very proud of itself for the way it embraces its citizens with disabilities,” he said. “The community realizes we all have abilities.”

Echoing Clark, Miller said young drivers with autism have had lower rates of tickets and accidents than teen drivers without disabilities.

“Typically, people with autism are going to obey the rules,” he said, and noted autistic individuals can learn required basic skills through structured programs because they generally abide by rules.

Tierra del Sol provides a variety of services that enable disabled individuals to attend college, work in the community, work with animals, create art and lead more independent lives.

In addition to a grant from State Farm, Saturday’s Celebrate My Drive event was also sponsored by the Bridges to Ability Foundation, Southern California Edison and Union Bank of California.

As part of Saturday’s event, Fernando Ponce – who works with Tierra del Sol students – led classes in driving safety, and Clark said the event drew a steady stream of people.

“It’s really been an amazing day,” he said.

Garrett Soash, 21, of Granada Hills, said he is studying for his driver’s license exam and that Ponce’s class was beneficial.

His mother, Kim Soash, said she found the class helpful because sometimes people with autism “feel like you’re the only one. This makes you feel like you’re not the only one.”

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