U. Michigan study to help those with autism improve driving

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — University of Michigan researchers are studying how well people with autism spectrum disorder can detect road hazards, and plan to assist the young

motorists in sharpening their driving skills. The upcoming effort will be the second phase of a project funded by Ford Motor Co. that teams the Ann Arbor university with a

local driving school. During phase one of the study, researchers found that students with autism spectrum disorder detected fewer hazards than control participants during

simulated drives. But, according to lead researcher Elise Hodges, some extra work behind the wheel did the trick. “Those folks that underwent training improved in

two-thirds of hazards in the simulated drive,” said Hodges, a clinical associate professor in the University of Michigan’s neuropsychology program. Tate Ellwood-Mielewski,

who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 3, is among those who plan to get back in the driver’s seat for phase two of the study. “I do want to be able to drive

... and get places where I want to go,” said Ellwood-Mielewski, a 23-year-old from Ann Arbor whose mother, Debbie Mielewski, was instrumental in pulling together the partners to

make the study happen. Mielewski had been harboring a growing concern about how her son would fare in the future with no driver’s license and his parents no longer

around. So, Mielewski, a technical fellow of sustainability at Ford, approached her boss in 2018 “and just blurted out: “Would you support a program to help autistic

spectrum kids to learn how to drive?”