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Stroke Smart Magazine

September/October 2007

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Teen Survivors Hit the Road

By Candy Harrington

Driving is the ultimate symbol of independence, especially for teens. Says 17-year-old Adam Piccolo, “Being able to drive gives me a sense of freedom and pride.” Like many other teenage stroke survivors, Adam passed his driving test on the first try.

For some teen survivors, driving requires few adaptations, so they merely enroll in a standard driver training class. Others find it useful to be evaluated by a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS). These adaptive driving professionals, who can be found through the American Occupational Therapy Association or the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists, evaluate the potential driver's functional ability, visual perception, reaction time, judgment and problem solving skills. If the CDRS feels the student can drive, adaptive equipment such as a spinner knob, hand controls or a left-footed pedal are recommended. The student is trained to use that equipment.

Still, many teen survivors learn how to drive without a CDRS or adaptive equipment. In fact, some parents prefer to do the teaching themselves. Such was the case with Cyndi Kouba. Her son had a stroke when he was 14. After a year of physical therapy Cyndi taught him how to drive. “I felt a school might not pick up on the little things that are different about him, like him not using his right hand as much and his attention issues,” says Cyndi.

Adam also learned how to drive without a CDRS. Recalls Adam, “My mom taught me to drive, and when it was time to take my driving test she hired a private driving instructor to make sure I knew everything I needed to know to pass the test.”

Megan Koester knew how to drive before her stroke, and wasn't willing to give up the independence that driving afforded her. Says Megan, “I took the long boring drive to the hospital with my mother, where I had to take a simulation driving test. I passed! The stroke had not won this battle!” Shortly thereafter, Megan passed the Ohio driving test.

Of course not everybody is successful. According to Jodi McBain, an occupational therapist at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, visual problems, especially a significant loss of vision on the left side, make driving difficult for many survivors. In some cases, prism glasses can remedy this problem.

In the end, the common mantra among teenage survivors is, “Don't give up.” Says Lucy Sole, “Although doctors assumed I would never walk again after my stroke, my body adapted to my disability.” Today Lucy drives with the aid of a spinner knob. Lucy offers these words of advice to other teens, “Never underestimate your potential to perform. You can probably achieve more than you think you can.”

American Occupational Therapy Association
(800) 377-8555

Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists
(318) 257-5055


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