Recent census reports show that about 76%, the majority, of Americans drive alone to work. This is followed by carpooling (9.4%), public transportation (5.2%), walking (2.8%), biking (0.6%), and other means (5.7%). However, the way people commute is dependent on where they live. There will not be access to trains in a rural setting and it can be difficult to drive in an urban setting.

While there are many different means of transportation already, each with their own advantages, there are also ongoing initiatives that can impact your options. Currently, there are 19 initiatives to help enhance transportation systems all over the country.  With these initiatives, it is even more important to pay attention to the options available to you.

Transportation is important when you have autism because different means of transportation will provide you with different experiences. For example, driving alone could create anxiety or a train might be too crowded or noisy. A report by Rutgers, indicated that most people with autism get dropped off at work. The study is ongoing as of 2016, as researchers gather more data on how people with autism react to different commuting scenarios.

All in all, different people will have different reactions, depending on their chosen mode of transportation. Getting to work is necessary in order to hold a job, so it is best to understand how transportation works and what the best options are for you. 

Public Transportation ($)

Public transportation is easily accessible to the general population and is most prevalent in urban areas. Examples of public transportation include buses, rail systems, taxis, and ride programs.

Pros: Affordable, better for the environment, extra time to get things done while riding (reading or sending emails)

Cons: Inconsistent time schedule, high social interaction, and sensory stimuli

Walking/biking (free or $ under certain circumstances)

Walking and biking are the cheapest way to travel and are best for an urban setting because of the close proximity between buildings. With more and more streets offering a designated bike lane, biking to work allows you to get some exercise and be in control of your schedule.

If you do not have a bike, some locations offer bikeshare programs where you can pick a bike up at one spot and drop it off at another. Or, you could go to a bike shop and purchase your own. These are the special circumstances where you would have to pay for a bike. Click here for an example of a bikeshare program in Washington, DC.

   Pros: Free, self-determined schedule, exercise

   Cons: Inclement weather, physical exhaustion, longer commute time

Paratransit ($)

Paratransit is a transportation system designed for people with disabilities. It allows you to customize your route to work by getting picked up and dropped off at the door. It is a civil right to use paratransit. Here is an explanation of how to utilize this mode of transportation.

Pros: Easily accessible, affordable, safe, self-determined schedule

Cons: Administrative setup and effort

Cars ($$)

Using a car to get to work can look like many things: carpooling with neighbors, self-driving, or drop-off by a family member. Each have their own benefits and involve different people. Driving is best for rural areas or suburbs. It is important to assess parking situations when committing to driving. You can learn more here.

Pros: Self-determined schedule, low social interaction, low sensory stimuli

Cons: Unpredictable traffic patterns, parking fees/availability, more expensive for gas, insurance, tolls, and maintenance fees 


Choosing Your Best Option

It can be hard to select the best option for your commute. Try taking a methodical approach to make your decision:

Map the distance – Commute time is important when deciding which mode of transportation to use. This is how long it will take you to get to work. If you live close to your worksite, walking or biking could be a better option.

Calculate a budget – How much are you willing to spend on transportation? Decide a range of how much you can pay each day to get to and from work. This will help narrow down options.

Identify triggers – Each option for transportation presents a different atmosphere. Public transportation can have many distracting and unpleasant sensory stimuli. Driving could lead to traffic and an unpredictable travel time. Think about what your triggers are and rule out which means of transportation could trigger an overwhelming situation.  

Reach out for suggestions – Figure out how other employees, coworkers, or people at nearby worksites commute. Listen to their stories and use their input to help you decide. Reach out to family members and neighbors to see what they suggest, or if they will be willing to help you commute by carpooling.

For more strategies to deciding how to commute, click here.  


Safety First

Commuting can create unsafe situations if you are not careful. Being attentive at all times will help avoid problems and keep you safe. Check out OAR’s Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide to Safety for a complete review of safety concerns and solutions.

Some things to think about are: 

  • Know where you are to prevent getting lost. Having relative landmarks that you recognize, such as certain restaurant you know to pass or a bridge to cross, will help you gauge your bearings. Get to know your surroundings so that you are familiar with the areas around your home and workplace. Using apps on your phone, including Apple Maps, Google Maps, and Map Quest can help you find your way if you do get lost. (Download at Apple Store and Android Store).
  • Be wary of strangers. Protect yourself from people who could present conflict or trouble. Some places to be alert include train stations, parking garages, streets at night, and secluded places. To avoid theft and assault, stay in well-lit areas, walk/move against traffic, do not carry too many things, wear comfortable apparel that is easy to move in, and avoid conflict with strangers.
  • Be alert of surroundings. Pay attention to street signals, people around you, poor drivers, and unfamiliar areas. It can be easy to become dazed during your commute, but be sure to actively assess your environment at all times. Be cautious when wearing headphones, as it can make you look like a distracted target. However, you can still use them and noise-cancelling headphones, if necessary. When you are wearing any type of headphone, make sure to appear alert. It is a good idea to show that you are aware and confident when traveling to avoid unsafe situations.
  • When driving, put down the phone and avoid texting. Pay attention to the streets and only the streets to guarantee safe travels.
  • Have an In Case of Emergency (ICE) contact in your phone. Your ICE contact should be someone that you want to be the first person contacted in case something bad happens. Usually it is a parent or close relative.
  • Make sure you have money. Money is helpful when traveling or commuting, in case you need to change your travel plans suddenly. Having a money can help you change means of transportation (e.g. take a cab) or keep you from getting hungry if you are delayed in getting home (e.g. heavy traffic, delayed trains). Money can go a long way when traveling. However, do not have your money visible. People could be tempted to rob you of your money if you do not keep your money safely hidden.
  • Get to know your local law enforcement. Being friendly with local law enforcement can work to your benefit. They can help you if you get lost, need to contact someone, or need assistance getting home. 


Warning About Autism and Public Transportation

There are some things that could be potential triggers for overstimulation when you use public transportation. It is very important to foresee these possible problems so you can prevent a panic attack from happening during your commute.

Some possible triggers are:

  • Schedule disruptions – Sometimes trains, buses, and taxis experience problems and suffer from schedule inconsistencies. Weather, vehicle/train maintenance, and other delays can disrupt your routine.
  • High social interaction – Lots of people use public transportation on a day-to-day basis. You may be forced to share a little amount of space with many strangers. You could also be around large crowds at stations or stops.
  • Sensory stimuli – Public transportation has many sensory stimuli: noise, lights, human contact, and odors. If you are sensitive to any of these stimuli, prepare yourself before taking public transportation or consider another option.
  • No climate control – Trains and buses, especially, can get very hot. With so many people around and unreliable air conditioning systems, the temperature can get very hot very quickly. 


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