A Bittersweet Rite of Passage

Danielle at the Division of Motor Vehicles

Danielle at the Division of Motor Vehicles

Getting your driver’s license is one of the most anticipated rites of passage for teenagers. In our state you can get your driver’s license at seventeen years old. As parents of four kids, this wasn’t the first time around for us, but this time it would be different. It would be bittersweet. Our daughter Danielle turned seventeen last month, but for her there were no car keys and no driver’s license. She has autism.

When her brothers were turning seventeen, they were busy practicing how to parallel park. In those days you could find us sweating it out in the passenger seat as our hearts would skip beats with every left turn or red light. When the boys passed their road tests we celebrated and recorded their successes with photographs of each holding up a new license.

At the Division of Motor Vehicles

On Danielle’s 17th birthday we did mark the day with a trip to the Division of Motor Vehicles but instead of going to take the road test we went to get a “non-driver ID.” The ID looks very much like a driver’s license, having a photo and all the relevant information. There’s one crucial difference though.  Instead of saying driver’s license, it says non-driver ID. The process is very similar. You present all the required proofs of age, fill out a form, and pay an application fee. Then they take your picture and make you an ID.

Decisions, decisions

We were unprepared; though, when the clerk asked us if Danielle wanted to list on her ID that she was willing to be an organ donor.


Since Danielle is unable to communicate her feelings on subjects like this, these sorts of decisions necessarily fall to us. Still, we felt uneasy making this decision for her. In contrast, our sons answered the organ donor question on their own. They filled out the form independently and checked off the boxes as they saw fit.

It was a bittersweet rite of passage that day. Standing in line at the Division of Motor Vehicles on Danielle’s seventeenth birthday reminded us of how we felt many years ago when Danielle was first diagnosed with autism. David wrote about this in Faith, Family and Children With Special Needs,

“I was lost in all the things I would  never be able to share with Danielle. No wedding. No car keys. No grandchildren.”

We were happy to be celebrating Danielle’s birthday but we were also sad that this dramatized such a remarkable degree of difference between Danielle, her brothers and other kids her age.

Fortunately such thoughts are fleeting when we realize how much Danielle has brought to our lives. She was very happy to have her non-driver ID and we were all very happy to be celebrating with her.


Danielle in the passenger's seat of our van

Danielle in the passenger’s seat of our van

Copyright 2015 David and Mercedes Rizzo
Photos courtesy of David and Mercedes Rizzo. All rights reserved.


About Author

David and Mercedes have four children. They write and speak from a faith perspective as parents of a child with autism. David is a physical therapist. Mercedes is an educator. They are available to speak, and have appeared on radio and other media. They can be contacted at [email protected] Follow them on Facebook at Autism With The Rizzos. Their publications are available at LoyolaPress.com.

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