My son, Jamie, has always been interested in big machines. Right from his first viewing of ‘Star Wars’, he became captivated by those darting spaceships and hulking mechanical ‘camels’. He always had a good sense of direction, telling me if I was taking a different route from the expected – “Where are we going?” So it was natural that as he got older I should start talking to him about driving.
He seemed keen so when he was 17 we went to the local Department of Transport and he took his Learner’s test. We were prepared because the department put up randomised theoretical questions so you could practise online at home. He did well at home, but went in to take the test at the Department and failed. A couple of weeks later, we went again. He failed. A month later he retook the test. He failed. After four unsuccessful attempts, he turned to me and asked, “Why do I need to do this?” And I replied, “Because it’s worth it.”
After six attempts, he passed and got his Learner’s.
This was the first step. I was absolutely terrified of his driving my car so I rarely let that happen. I preferred to pay a driving instructor to train him and it paid off. Jamie was soon correcting me on my poor driving habits and advising me on short cuts around our area.
After a year of building up his 100 hours’ driving, he took his practical licence and passed first time. I was so thrilled for him. At 17 he could drive and I had made sure it was a manual car he was driving. My reasoning was that one day he might be able to carve a livelihood out by driving and all the heavy vehicles have manual gear shifts not automatic.
So he continued getting better and better at driving and we used his savings to buy a small runabout manual car. (I had been putting $10 a week into an account that had swollen to thousands by the time he was 18.) By having his own vehicle, he could drive himself to his first job – a part-time job at a nursery over 20 kilometres away. He could also go to the hotel twice a week to dance at the local disco. It gave him the independence he so needed.
This situation continued for five years. He grew tired of the repetitive work at the nursery but whenever he applied for other jobs, he failed at interviews if he even got invited to them. Jamie’s speech is not always clear and he cannot comprehend complex sentences or concepts.
I began to despair of him ever finding full-time work. I thought of truck driving and encouraged him to take lessons on a medium rigid vehicle. He did them for about six months and passed this exam first time. However, employers won’t give driving jobs to anyone under 25 – the insurance is just too expensive. So what were we to do?
Then I happened upon an answer – he could become a courier until he reached 25 when he would have experience in the driving business. It was a good idea – but we needed a van and an Australian Business Number so that Jamie could become an owner-driver and be subcontracted by the business. Again, we dipped into his savings and took the risk that he would take to this work.
And that was how it happened. We went to the interview and I was allowed in with Jamie. It was a breakthrough. I could speak on Jamie’s behalf and got the training at the same as he did. Then – I don’t know how I did it – I worked for the company with Jamie in the van for three weeks. It was exhausting – working from 6:30am to 5pm and lifting heavy objects – but it meant that I could model how to problem solve and by the time I left, he could cope on his own.
So now – six weeks later Jamie drives alone and is earning good money. He enjoys the responsibility and the activit
y. He feels useful and part of a team. It was a risk to purchase a van but it placed Jamie in the perfect position to find the best job for him. My advice for any parent with a similarly gifted child is to encourage them to find a driving job – it will be the beginning of true independence for them.