At some point late last year I finally bit the bullet and signed up to start driving lessons. It’s something that I’d been putting off for years, mostly due to living in cities where I had no need to drive, but also partly due to fear. Eventually however, circumstances meant that I decided it was probably time I learnt how to drive. I couldn’t be relying on public transport, taxis, and my Mum forever.
At first my driving lessons went well, I was picking things up fairly easily, things didn’t seem too bad, and my instructor seemed okay. However, pretty soon everything ground to a halt, I was finding learning to drive harder and harder, getting stuck at points my instructor was telling me were supposed to be easy, that I should be better, faster, more consistent. I ended up at a stage where I was in tears at the end of every lesson because I just couldn’t do it, despite how hard I was trying, and my instructor was getting more and more frustrated with me.
Having dyspraxia meant that I always knew learning to drive was going to be a challenge, which was why I’d put it off for so long. I have coordination issues, meaning that I struggle to do different things with different parts of my body at once,it’s something that I also struggle with when I’m horse riding, I can only focus on one part of my body at once. I also struggle to tell left from right, judge distances and space, and quite often I can’t interpret spoken instructions into physical actions. All things that are quite important when learning to drive.
I decided to try learning how to drive a manual car first, partly due to stubborness and a desire to prove to myself that I could drive just the same as anyone else, and partly due to social and societal pressures. If I had a pound for every time someone had said to me “oh you need to learn manual, you’re going to limit yourself so much if you don’t.” I’d probably be able to pay all my tuition fees for university outright. Eventually though it’s got to a point where I feel like I may have to accept that I may just have to learn automatic, for my own sanity and for everyone elses safety.
That decision didn’t come easily. I felt like a failure, like I’d let myself down, like I was less than. It didn’t help that a lot of people were still pushing me to learn manual, that it would be easy once I got it, I just had to keep trying. But realistically I had to accept that maybe learning manual wasn’t in my best interests, there’s simply too many steps to coordinate in a short space of time, and removing the gearbox and clutch control element of driving would probably help me out a great deal.
In my attempts to learn to drive I’ve also gone through a couple of instructors already trying to find one that understands how to work with me and my needs. My first instructor I tried to explain my dyspraxia to him, but I don’t think he fully understood what it meant or how to deal with it. In fact at one point, after I’d slowed down to let a car on the other side of the road through a gap next to a parked car I wasn’t sure we would both comfortably fit through, he questioned why on earth I’d slowed down when I shouldn’t have, when I explained I wasn’t sure about the distance and space he said to me “well, should you even be driving then.”
It was at that point that I did start questioning whether I’d been too ambitious learning to drive, whether realistically it was going to be a milestone I could ever achieve. I decided not to give up there and then but to try switching instructors and see if that helped. My second instructor was a lot more patient and understanding, and had previous experience of teaching people with disabilities how to drive. In the one lesson I had with him I felt like I did so much better, like I may actually be able to drive. He also suggested learning automatic instead. However, no matter how much I liked the instructor, where I lived was too far away for him to be willing to travel to on a regular basis so it was back to the drawing board.
Now I’m trying to work out where I want to go from here. I know that if I switch to automatic it will cost me more money per lesson, which is frustrating for me, especially when I’d much rather drive manual if I could. But honestly? I don’t think I can at this point. Maybe one day I will learn to drive manual, but that day may never come. And maybe we shouldn’t make people feel like the only proper way to learn is by learning manual.