Port Orchard man with autism passes a driving test at WSDOL property

By | December 18, 2023

When Brandon Soliday of Port Orchard passed his driving test in Lakewood on Nov. 3, the 21-year-old clenched his fist and raised his arms in the air to express his happiness. With a big smile on his face, he gave his mother, Elizabeth, a high five. When they left the exam location, they immediately called his father to tell him the good news.

It was a huge success for Soliday, who has autism, a receptive expressive speech disorder and an auditory processing disorder, as Elizabeth described. Soliday had taken the exam and failed sixteen times in four years before his seventeenth attempt in November.

The difference this time was that the Washington State Department of Licensing (WADOL) provided an accommodation that allowed Soliday to demonstrate his driving knowledge. And many in the department who helped with this journey were happy with the outcome, as it could now open the door to other people with specific needs, like Soliday.

“We’re excited about this,” Dan Cooke, administrator of the Licensing, Endorsements, and Traffic Safety Program at WADOL, told the Kitsap Sun. “We’re thrilled to have been able to support a customer in delivering a service and maintaining the integrity of our licensing process… It’s a tremendous success.”

“I’m really glad they finally helped us,” Elizabeth said. “I think it was the right thing to do.”

Equal housing for a client with autism

Soliday now does housework at Bangor Naval Base. He has been driving with a learner’s permit since 2019 and is accompanied by his mother.

Elizabeth first noticed Brandon’s ability to learn rules and actions based on observing other behaviors in 2018. That year, she was surprised to see that Brandon seemed to know how to play Special the first time he played the sport had to play Olympics softball. She realized her son had the ability to see someone do something and then pick up the know-how, Elizabeth said, rather than having it explained verbally.

So when Brandon expressed his interest in driving at age 17, Elizabeth took him to a nearby parking lot to embark on an unexpected journey.

“He wanted more independence. He wants to go to the grocery store and maybe get a snack and then come back alone, or maybe he wants to go to the park,” Elizabeth said.

Soliday has taken driving courses at two driving schools and has applied for and renewed his driver’s license over the past four years. The permit allows people to legally practice driving on Washington roads with a licensed driver who has at least 5 years of driving experience, DOL said.

“He’s never had an accident or gotten a ticket. And he really wants to practice. So when I go out, he drives, unless he just doesn’t want to,” Elizabeth said.

“He tried for a long time.”

Unfortunately, on the driving knowledge test, Soliday had difficulty understanding the description of the questions in the DOL exams. Some words that appear on the test sheet, such as “aquaplaning” or “inattentional blindness,” are not common in everyday conversation. The inconsistent writing of the questions also confused him, Elizabeth said.

Soliday started reading at age 13, which left him far behind his peers in developing his reading skills, she said, and led to frustration with DOL questions.

“He tried for a long time. He studied so much. And at one point, it was earlier this year, I had to take the book away and say, we’re not doing this anymore. You get too frustrated,” Elizabeth said.

After Elizabeth’s request for an accommodation for testing, the Department of Licensing came up with a way to restructure the exam in a way that measured the knowledge needed, but based on Brandon’s situation.

He took the exam in two days, with twenty multiple choice questions per day and forty questions in total. The questions have been rewritten to be simple and at a third through fifth grade reading level. For each question, images were created that reflected the content of the questions. The questions were also grouped by topic, rather than jumping from one concept to another.

A DOL employee read the questions for Soliday in the exam room. One question at a time was read and shown to him. Soliday could say the answer or point to the exam paper.

“When the questions were presented to him, he knew,” recalls Angela Berg, a curriculum and testing specialist at WSDOL who oversaw Soliday’s test. “There were a few that he took a moment to think about, but there are a lot more, he just went really fast.”

“He knew this information. He had this knowledge. He just needed a way to communicate that,” Berg said.

Soliday’s test was WSDOL’s first experience offering accommodations to a person with autism, and this process will help the department create a better test for anyone taking the knowledge test in the future, Berg said.

Part of DOL’s efforts to provide customer-focused services

The accommodation created for Soliday is just one of many strategies the department is using to provide customer-focused service in the areas of driving and road safety, Cooke added.

DOL is currently modernizing the Washington State Driver Guide to make the guide more accessible to a more diverse population in terms of languages ​​and accessibility standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Such modernization includes creating a user-friendly interactive document that allows more individuals to interact with the material in a way that is meaningful to them, Cooke said.

The department is also taking the same approach to revising curriculum standards for driving schools in the state, Cooke said.

“It’s about a holistic approach to driver education and safety that is customer-focused and service-oriented, looking at how we can help every Washington resident achieve this goal: being a safe road user with a driver’s license who has every chance to succeed.” ”

Encouragement for other families to reach out

For parents who have children with autism and may be facing similar challenges, Cooke encouraged people to contact the department and help DOL understand the situation. The department works with stakeholders and partners statewide who focus on public safety and traffic safety and can often tap into resources that parents may not be aware of, Cooke said.

“There may already be solutions,” Cooke said. “Or, in this case, we can work with this nationwide team of people to develop solutions like this that have the potential to form the basis for future efforts.”

Soliday will still have to take and pass his driving test before receiving his license, Elizabeth said. But when he was able to drive on his own, they prepared to put a paper in the trunk of his car that clearly stated Brandon’s disability, along with his insurance information and car registration, so he could quickly remove these documents in case he would be arrested by the police. .

Passing the knowledge test was a step on Soliday’s path to becoming more independent, Elizabeth said.

“Brandon has big goals,” Elizabeth said. “He has realistic goals…Brandon really wants to be an independent adult, as independent as he can be. He realizes he needs our support, but he just wants to prove himself.”

This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: Man with autism earns driver’s license with Washington state equity plan

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