Learning to Drive, and the NDIS

Getting a driver’s license can be one of the most exciting times in a young person’s life.  Many people start to think about driving in their early teens; the idea of freedom and independence in the community is extremely motivating.  People who have disabilities are no different – many people with disabilities have goals of learning to drive and see this as a major milestone on their journey to becoming an adult just as anyone else would. 

Participants of the NDIS receive funding assistance to help cover the financial burdens that come with having a disability.  Sometimes, people with disabilities need extra support with learning to drive due to the challenges they face because of their disability, which are additional to the typical challenges faced by learner drivers without disabilities.  In these situations, NDIS participants may be able to access funding support to assist them with these additional challenges.

Let’s clarify how the NDIS can assist participant’s who are learning to drive. If a participant’ has stipulated in their goals that they would like to learn to drive, the participant is permitted to use their Capacity Building budget to fund an Initial Occupational Therapy Driver Assessment.   The participant MUST have a learner’s permit already, before they can participate in the assessment. Some learner’s permit holders will have never driven prior to the assessment, and others may have already attempted to learn to drive but experienced major challenges. No prior approval is required to spend NDIS funding on the OT driver assessment, as long as there are sufficient funds in the plan. However, the participant must obtain a GP referral letter noting their medical history and medications, in order to do the assessment.

At the initial Occupational Therapy Driver Assessment, the Driver-Trained OT will determine the impact of the participant’s disability on their ability to drive (or learn to drive).  In some situations, the assessment may lead the driver-trained OT to recommend that the participant undergo a series of specialised driving lessons.  Specialised driving lessons are NOT regular driving lessons given through a driving school. They are a therapeutic version of a driving lesson which focuses on facilitating skill development in the context of the person’s disability-specific driving challenges. Specialised driving lessons implement an individualised learning plan which is developed by the driver-trained OT, with the goal of reducing the impact of the person’s disability on their driving performance. The goal of specialised driving lessons is to bring the participant’s driving skills to a level comparable with any typical learner driver. If this can be achieved, the participant will be discharged to continue with learning to drive along a typical pathway. This involves self-funding regular driving lessons and participating in driving practice supervised by a willing and capable guardian (or parent) who is fully licensed.

If the OT feels that specialised driving lessons are necessary, a participant has the choice of self-funding or applying for NDIS funding for this support. Self-funding specialised lessons accelerates the process by removing the need to wait for NDIS approval. Because specialised driving lessons are a ‘stated plan item‘, the NDIS does not permit participants to use their existing funding for this support. Instead, the NDIS requires that the driver-trained OT submit a report along with a quote for specialised lessons.  The NDIS will review this information at the participant’s next plan review (or via a ‘Change of Circumstances’) and if they feel that the request is reasonable and necessary, they will add funding for specialised driver training to the person’s NDIS Plan. 

Because specialised driving lessons are a ‘stated plan item‘, it is recommended that the OT driver assessment take place BEFORE an upcoming NDIS Plan Review.  If no plan review has been scheduled, the participant can request an unscheduled review (or ‘Change of Circumstances’) so that the driving assessment report can be reviewed by the NDIS, and a re-consideration of funding for the addition of specialised driving lessons can take place. 

IF the NDIS approves funding for specialised driving lessons, these lessons will take place at a frequency of 2 (at least) per week. Learner drivers seeking NDIS funding for specialised driving lessons must have the support of a fully licensed guardian as part of their learning process, as a collaborative approach is absolutely necessary to produce positive learning results. Having access to an informal driving supervisor facilitates additional on-road practice (outside of lessons) which is necessary to optimise learning. The NDIS will not fund ongoing driving lessons, so if a participant successfully completes their specialised driving lessons, it is crucial that their driving experience continues via informal driving practice (or by self-funding driving lessons).

If you have more questions about how the NDIS can contribute to a participant’s goal of learning to drive (or returning to driving), or you would like to book an OT Driving Assessment, please call us on 0431 894 435 or email info@goldcoastdrivingot.com.au.