Ann Arbor Academy offers driving program for those with learning disabilities

Posted at 6:27 AM, May 10, 2022

(WXYZ) — It can be difficult to find driving classes for people diagnosed with a learning disability like autism or ADHD, but being able to drive makes it easier to get around the metro Detroit area.

That's why a program in Ann Arbor is stepping up to make sure people are given the right to drive.

The program is designed to create a classroom setting that makes learning how to drive an easier process by accommodating students and their needs to help them build futures.

Allen Bostwick is just a few weeks away from graduating from The Ann Arbor Academy.

"Well I have really been looking into the reserves and looking into some other type of military work, trying to follow the steps of my grandfather. He was in the Navy," Bostwick said.

On the side, he's a host at Zingermans. He said if he didn't have a car, he would be taking the bus, an Uber, or having his mom drive him.

"But with a car, I can just go to and from there within 15 or 20 minutes," he said.

Bostwick has autism and ADHD, but was able to learn how to drive in a program designed to accommodate his learning needs. The idea for the program that helps students like Allen started with Debbie Mieleski.

"I was concerned because my son was 18, he is on the autism spectrum, and he hadn't learned how to drive," Mielewski said "I believed that he did need to be able to get groceries, he needed to be able to go out on his own and become independent."

Mieleski turned to her employer – Ford – to see if they would sponsor a program that would provide classes to teens on the autism spectrum.

They said yes, with some help from researchers at the University of Michigan.

The program provides understanding teachers who help meet the needs of the students.

"He needs to walk while he is learning maybe in the back of the room," Mielewski said.

It also provides smaller class sizes, and a simulator to practice on before hitting the road.

"The simulation of how do you drive, how do you avoid obstacles, because one of the things that can happen when you have autism is that a lot of sensory impute that comes in at once can overload the brain and you can kind of shut down," Ann Arbor Academy Executive Director Meredith Schindler said. "Of course, you don't want to do that when you are driving a car."

Our Ali Hoxie took a drive with Bostwick. They talked about music, high gas prices, and what it's like being the first of your friends' group with a license.

For Bostwick, getting his license is also an important life lesson.

"Here it helped me understand that my disabilities do not weigh me down, I can perform just as well as any other kid at any public school as long as I try hard enough you know," he said.

Classes are starting up again in late June or early July, but there is currently a waitlist. You can reach out to them by email if you would like your teen to join the list.