Cool Cars Are Therapeutic

Admitting needs is tough for many of us – even those of us on the autism spectrum. Part of the reason I blog is to be more transparent about my weaknesses. If I can share anything helpful, whether it is from a moment of victory, or of a moment of struggle, I want to do it. If my Mini can help me, or stories about my Mini can bless others – I’m in.

I am grateful for therapies that have helped me stay regulated, whether chemically or emotionally. Who knows the exact ratio of those two? Lack of endorphins could be the cause of bad moods sometimes; other times, the cause may simply be “stinkin’ thinkin’.”

I heard a story on the radio about a couple who had a special needs child. One day when the boy and his mother had had a rough day, Dad came home and tried what he thought was a novel idea. “Do you want to go for a ride in Daddy’s convertible?” It was like flipping a switch. The boy lit up at the idea, so they took off and his emotions changed for the better.

After that experience, the father wondered if other special needs children could benefit from what I’m calling “cool car therapy.” And Joy Ride was born. Owners of special rare and exotic cars gather in cities and take special needs kids for a ride. The founder says, “These guys miss out on sleepovers, sport participation – this is just for them.”

I have often thought of driving the Mini as a kind of therapy. There were other cars that I have enjoyed driving – mostly the manual transmissions I’ve owned – even the ones I had to pop start. And there was the Buick Roadmaster. Extremely powerful and comfortable, the Roadmaster had been my mother’s car. My dad gave it to me when she passed away. Big, fun, fast, handy for delivering an entire route of the Sunday edition of the Richmond newspaper; I drove it until its value was not worth the repairs it needed to pass inspection.

What is it about riding that can make us smile? Going faster than we can on foot? Feeling the hum of the engine in our bodies as we pass things and others? I think of an episode of Victoria – a BBC television show about former queen of England – and the queen’s first ride on a brand-new technology, the locomotive. The exhilaration on the actor and actress’ faces was clear.

Some of us, neurotypical or not, would call trains, planes, bikes, or automobiles “enthusiasms” or “hobbies.” For others, vehicles are simply a tool to get us from Point A to Point B.

But being made to feel special – like the Joy Ride group does – that is huge. Cars can do that for many of us. No mid-life crisis issues here, I simply needed a new car and found one that was affordable and fun at the same time.

When I first saw this Mini in the lot, I took pictures. The dealer was closed that Sunday evening; that was the very reason I was out. I wanted to survey the inventory in my area without salesmanship.

My first pic of the Paceman in the dealer lot a MONTH before I test drove it. Not a great pic – but hey – it’s real life.

I continued to poke around for about a month, and I found it was still on the lot! When I asked the salesman why the car was still there, his main answer was “today’s market has a much smaller demand for manuals.” (Maybe the later generations must hold their phone while they’re driving.)

The test drive was fun, but I was deciding between a hybrid I had found at another dealer and this Mini Paceman. The positives on the Mini were many – mostly style and fun. The hybrid had less miles, and may have been better on gas, but it was no fun at all. Plus, the thought of a huge battery replacement one day (or do people simply trade in hybrids and electrics when the battery dies?!?) did not excite me. I had been driving the family minivan – a 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan with 297,000 miles on it – for several years. It was time. We had enough money to pay half up front, and the payments would be more than manageable on a short-term loan.

Did I need car therapy? Probably not. Do I benefit from it? Most certainly.

To hear about a entire organization devoted to car therapy for those of us who do need special attention was both intriguing and encouraging. Thanks, Joy Ride, for your commitment to bring excitement and moments of regulation to those of us who aren’t so good at identifying what we need. I don’t want to depend on a car, just like I don’t want to depend on a drug, or a “fix” from anything to be able to live life. But the car IS less invasive and has fewer side effects! Keep shiftin’.

Published by Bart Shoaf

Blogging about victories and challenges as a middle-aged man with a late diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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