New Methods Enhance Driver Training of Teens with ADHD

As trained ADHD coaches, we appreciate new, promising research that shows driving instructors who utilize a coaching strategy to communicate with their students to be more successful.  To date, there has been little research conducted on the impact of coaching as a learning technique for the driver education community.

One standout exception is Dr. Jonathan Passmore, a renowned British author, speaker, coach, and internationally respected psychologist who came to the driver training industry in 2010. His first impression of the field was that it was dismissive of any approach to improve. He compared this perspective to the medical practices of the 18th century where experience without scientific method was enough. Today, we will not accept a new drug that is not subject to scientific evaluation. Yet, sadly, the driving industry in the U.S. operates without the benefit of the scientific method. The driver education culture is slow to embrace new methods, technologies and programs that enhance the new-driver training experience.

Dr. Passmore developed a coaching method hypothesis for use in driver education. Specifically, he proposed that coaching, as a training technique would mitigate the risks associated with teenage drivers, thereby increasing skills and reducing accidents.

As ADHD coaches and authors of Behind the Wheel With ADHD, we see the value of connecting the coaching method with driving instruction. This is especially important for those teens with ADHD. A typical driving lesson finds the instructor in the passenger seat calling out commands to an often-nervous novice driver. As most in the ADHD community are well aware, ordering a string of varied instructions is not an effective way to communicate with these students. The situation is further exacerbated by the new driver’s anxiety.

In his research (which is still continuing in England), Dr. Passmore found that driving instructors who utilized his coaching approach — in both classrooms and behind-the-wheel lessons — believed their teaching style improved. They were also able to offer students more feedback and to work collaboratively to set clear goals in each car trip. What’s more, they frequently engaged their students as active learners.

Someone with ADHD who is trying to master driving skills encounters challenges due to impairments of executive functions plus a probable maturational lag. In addition to these problems, there are challenges encountered at each level of skill building. Driving is a complex behavior that involves three organized levels of competency: operational competency, tactical competency, and the highest level, strategic competency. It is the strategic level where we train driving instructors to use the coaching approach. This instructional approach engages their students as active learners. Strategic competencies include skills related to planning, choosing the route, preemptive decisions and also developing an awareness of the learner’s deficits such as impulsivity, distractibility and inattention.

Driving instructors who use coaching  (e.g. Asking questions, actively engaging students, providing feedback) are creating a “learning laboratory” in the car. There both successes and failures are explored equally. As the needs of teenagers with ADHD and other executive functioning challenges become more defined and we step up in science, education, medicine and technology to meet those needs, we are hopeful the driver education community will adapt.  We offer our training program for private driving schools and public school instructors so they can better serve students with learning challenges. Part of our training program highlights Dr. Passmore’s work as a valuable resource. His approach can integrate coaching skills with driver education training for the general benefit of all drivers.

Behind the Wheel With ADHD professional training program is the creation of Gayle Sweeney and Ann Shanahan and is available to any commercial driving school or public school that offers driver education. Parents who wish to enroll their teen in a driver education program that offers this specialized training should check the website or request their local program contact Gayle or Ann to arrange approved training and certification. The training program was recently featured in an article in US News & World Report.


Gayle Sweeney and Ann Shanahan, co-authors of Behind the Wheel With ADHD, authored this blog. Their website is www.behindthewheelwithadhd.com.  For more information, contact them by email or phone:  gayle.shanahansweeney@gmail.com; annshanahan55@gmail.com or, 630.674.2738 (Gayle) or 312.428.1133 (Ann).

Their webinar series Behind the Wheel With ADHD for parents and coaches is sponsored by the Edge Foundation, each month. Check out the webinar at https://edgefoundation.org/parents/webinars/ and sign up today.

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