Last Updated on October 2, 2023 by Editorial Team
MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY NUMBERDYSLEXIA’S MEDICAL REVIEW PANEL ON MAY 30, 2020
Ever wonder what would happen if you lost the directional abilities? Reaching your destination will be nearly impossible if you keep on messing left or right. Of course, Google Maps has really made our lives easy. But still, you’ll have a very hard time relating the delta distance between points A and B on GPS vs. real life. An adult with a driving license and dyscalculia probably faces this difficulty every day. So, what exactly is it like for a person with dyscalculia to drive? Is it dangerous? How he/she should manage it?
Dyscalculia and driving: The issues faced
Driving is a skill that although looks so common, is actually very complicated. There are a lot of thought processes that go into the brain while driving, which is hardly ever noticed owing to the several years of our experience with driving. Note that our brain is not designed to handle too many tasks at once.
Driving a car is already a multi-task to some extent. I mean, you got to take care of steering, pedals, transmission, and road. Furthermore, You have to be aware of speed limits, distance, and path green boards. Driving involves different parts of our brain to coordinate work to ensure safe driving.
The Frontal lobe triggers warning signals. The Parietal lobe acts as your gauge on how hard you hit the brakes, or how far you steer during an emergency. The Occipital lobe gives visual responses and is responsible for your navigational analysis while driving. Lastly, the Temporal lobe gives you alertness based on what you hear.
For a person with dyscalculia, this may not be easy at all. It has been evident from several studies that dyslexia is directly related to dyscalculia. Although, dyscalculia doesn’t necessarily mean having dyslexia, or vice versa. Some of the attributes of Dyslexia may apply to a person with dyscalculia as well. The directional difficulty is one of them. It is just not only about counting numbers. It can seriously impact our day-to-day activities with driving being one of them. There are several issues that dyscalculics face while driving. Let’s take a look at some of these.
1. Sense of Direction:
Dyscalculics may have a poor understanding of directions which is reflected in their driving. Getting confused with left and right turns. Even GPS does no good when directions need to be translated into real scenarios. High probability of getting lost while following directions in order. They also have a hard time correlating the wheel’s rotation with steering direction. As a result, parallel parking and driving in reverse is just another nightmare.
2. Spatial Relations:
It may be common knowledge about how much distance is 1, 2, 3, or 100 km. People have a sense of how an object is located in space in relation to some reference objects. We rely on Google Maps to tell us where we are and how much distance is left. Dyscalculia may have a hard time dealing with it. They may drive 16 km for a distance that was merely 4km on the map.
3. Reading and Understanding Sign Boards:
Years of driving experience made our brain such that it keeps on looking for instruction boards in our subconscious mind while driving. Even after knowing that we reached our city, we still look for a ‘welcome’ board to confirm it. The majority of the instructions are symbol-based. Our brain should work fast enough to interpret these symbols and perform necessary actions within the timeframe.
I mean, you don’t want to miss the turn to the flyover otherwise you will be putting another 20km on the road. Driving is already a huge task for a dyscalculic (mostly but not everyone) to handle, interpreting signboards just adds another layer to their burden. They may have a hard time reading numbers on boards properly. In a city like Chandigarh, where the area is divided into numeral sectors, a person with dyscalculia may get lost in oblivion.
4. Road Guidelines:
Always wearing a seatbelt, not crossing a red light, maintaining the speed limit, not using parking indicators, and using wrong-side indicators are some of the important guidelines for driving. When there is too much to consider, it becomes harder even for a normal person to follow, imagine being a dyscalculic. What’s my speed? Am I using the right indicator? Should I cross now? Fighting these questions and then anxiety ensues.
5. Road Anxiety:
The fear of the road is pretty common in people and so is in people with dyscalculia. Messing things up, failing, and accidentally breaking a traffic rule are some of the common thoughts a person with LD probably goes through while driving. This can seriously impact a person’s ability to function on a daily basis if they need to drive to work or drive for a living.
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How to manage it?
Firstly, It’s better to avoid driving if it isn’t necessary. There are times when you don’t really need to drive but you do it because why not? Still, we’ll scope out the aspect of not driving for now. It’s just not an option, some of our daily lives depend upon it. However, you might want to consult first with some experts in the field if your dyscalculia is severe or have another disorder along with dyscalculia.
Do mention your learning disability to the driving instructor. Opt for a specialist driving program for your training. Look for driving instructors that specifically cater to your needs. Once, you get a good hold of it, then practice, practice, and practice. There is no specific solution for driving with dyscalculia. It all depends upon how you’ll be able to make driving as comfortable as possible. We compiled a list of options you can have, to counter your issues while driving.
1. Google Maps Voice Feature:
if you use Google Maps for navigation, it is highly recommended to use the voice feature to tell you directions in real-time. By default, the voice function is already on in the application. If not, then follow the below steps to do it :
- Open Google Maps on your smartphone.
- Tap the menu icon at the top-left corner of the screen. A side navigation bar will appear.
- Choose ‘Settings’ from the side navigation bar.
- Tap on the ‘Navigation Settings’ near the middle menu.
- Turn on the ‘Play audio cues’ option.
- You also change the volume and voices suiting best to your ears.
This feature eases any difficulties responding to navigational calls. As it signals any turns and diversions a few seconds earlier, you don’t have to worry about any spatial miscalculations.
2. Have a Backup:
Whenever possible, drive while someone accompanying you. Go with someone with driving experience to assist you on the road. Getting real-time assistance from a human being is way better and more comforting than relying on technology. And if for some unknown reason, your brain decides to turn on the severe panic mode, then your buddy can take the wheels for the moment.
3. Progressive muscle relaxation:
Do progressive muscle relaxing exercises just before driving to keep you calm while driving on the road. Doing PMR for about 20 minutes on a regular basis will train you on how to hold and release tension whenever your body demands it. This can improve your sense of control over your mood, reduce the frequency of panic attacks, and increase your concentration. There are many PMR-related exercises to try but we specifically mentioned ones that will help you calm yourself while driving.
First, sit in a comfortable position, with your eyes closed. Tighten each muscle group for 7-10 seconds and then release it for 15 – 20 seconds. Do the following in any order you’re comfortable with but it’s recommended to start with the upper body and then move to the lower part:
- Take a few deep breaths. Expand your belly as you breathe in and contract as you exhale.
- Lift your shoulder to your ears, hold, then release and breathe.
- Make a fist with your left hand, tighten the muscles in your lower and upper arm, hold, and then release. Breathe in and out. Repeat it with the other hand.
- Concentrate on your back, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold, then release. Breathe in and out.
- Tighten the left thigh by clenching its biceps, hold, then release. Breathe in and out. Repeat it with the other thigh.
- Flex your left calf, hold, and then release. Repeat with left calf.
- Tense your toes on your left foot, hold, then release. Repeat with the right foot.
4. Make sure you know the traffic rules:
Always the one unprepared will get scared during the exam. Prepare yourself before driving. keep yourself aware of traffic rules. Use notes to keep reminding you about the rules. Use a reminder app to revisit the rules list. Keep a quick rule book with you and revise it once in a while. Stress on learning symbols. Quiz yourself often randomly. Use apps to do it for you. Maintain records of rules that you often forget. Practice them regularly.
5. Assistive Equipment:
Prepare yourself well for driving. Use assistance to ensure safety. There are several on the market but only a couple actually serves the need of a person with a learning disability. The idea here is to make driving comfortable for your eyes and mind.
Buy a Digital Speedometer to keep you updated on the speed. Keep it at a location with easy visibility without blocking any road view. Make sure the color combination is easy on your eyes.
Instead of re-opening Google Maps on mobile to look up maps. Try getting your hands on the GPS device for your car if you don’t have one. Almost every GPS does a fine job for assistance but recommended are the ones with warning voice signals, simple user interface, good display, and animations, and accurately updated maps. You can also use mobile holders for this purpose, however, we want the least distraction on your mind while driving.
Sticky notes on car windshield is a big no. It blocks your view and you don’t want any adhesive on the glass at all. As said earlier we don’t want any distractions while driving. Hence, we’ll scope out the use of the smartphone as well. The best thing to do is to use Notepad or a Memopad. Use ones that can be attached to the dashboard with a side pocket for a pen (In case you forget it). Place it so that it is easily visible without blocking any front view.
We looked at some of the aspects of how a person feels while driving. It’s not easy. The constant fear of getting yourself in danger while driving can have a serious impact on a person’s day-to-day life. The ultimate solution is to simulate the experience as much as possible.
Practice till you perfect it. Join a good training school and mention your learning disability. Driving is not dangerous at all if you are well prepared for it no matter what your LD is. If you attained a driving license then the government trusted you to go on the road with the condition to always follow the rules.
An engineer, Maths expert, Online Tutor and animal rights activist. In more than 5+ years of my online teaching experience, I closely worked with many students struggling with dyscalculia and dyslexia. With the years passing, I learned that not much effort being put into the awareness of this learning disorder. Students with dyscalculia often misunderstood for having just a simple math fear. This is still an underresearched and understudied subject. I am also the founder of Smartynote -‘The notepad app for dyslexia’,