Welcome to the November edition of Ask Dr. Emily!
We often receive questions that we want to share with all our readers. To help with this, Dr. Emily Neuhaus, a clinical psychologist at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, will share insights in a question and answer format.
We welcome you to send us your questions and Dr. Neuhaus will do her best to answer them each month. Send your questions to email@example.com.
Question: News about the election has been everywhere lately. With all this coverage, what can I do to help my child with autism?
Answer: Election season is always busy and often fraught with strong emotions and opinions! We might think of politics and elections as issues that are only relevant for adults, but they can definitely affect children and teenagers as well – whether they have ASD or not. There are several different ways that we as adults can offer support related to political events and the upcoming election.
First, for older teens who approaching or have reached voting age, we can help them learn about the process of voting. It’s a lot to learn! For example, voting requires registering ahead of time, learning about current issues, filling out ballots that aren’t always so clear… Below are a number of great websites to learn more about the practical parts of voting, from figuring out whether someone is eligible to vote, to registering successfully, and on through casting a ballot. Check out these links to learn more about exercising the right to vote:
- The Arc – Know Your Right to Vote: https://www.thearc.org/what-we-do/resources/toolkits/vote
- U.S. Election Assistance Commission – 10 Tips for Voters with Disabilities: https://www.eac.gov/assets/1/28/508%5b1%5d_14Disabilities.pdf
- American Association of People with Disabilities – Voter Resource Center: https://www.aapd.com/advocacy/voting/voter-resource-center/
Once the official details of voting have been figured out, families sometimes wonder how best to support their family member with a disability in that process. Our own Therese Vafaeezadeh, ARNP, a provider here at the Seattle Children’s Autism Center, shared her insights in this area a few years ago. It’s a great way to think through how to support a new voter:
- Seattle Children’s Autism Center Blog – Autism and Voting: https://theautismblog.seattlechildrens.org/autism-and-voting/
Finally, even though children and younger teens are too young to vote, they can be affected by election season too. Sometimes that effect is positive – they may see adults around them becoming energized to work for issues they care about, or enthusiastic to participate in the voting process. But other times, the effect is more confusing or challenging – children may hear adults or peers in their families or social circles disagreeing with one another, and that can cause a lot of tension. Day to day, they may see or hear news stories about current events that make them feel anxious, and teens especially may worry about how the events they see in the media or the outcomes from elections will affect them, their families, or their friends. These issues aren’t unique to ASD, but the abstractness of politics, the emotions surrounding big issues, and the amount of information floating around can be especially tough. Given all of this, how can we provide the emotional support our kids need? Look to the references below for some helpful guidelines about getting through election season with kids in mind.
- American Psychological Association – Talking to Children About the Election: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/election-talk.aspx
- KidsHealth – Talking Politics: What to Say to Your Kids: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/voting-banner.html
As the mother and legal guardian of a 19-year-old young man with severe autism, I would love to know what other parents and caregivers think about registering your adult child to vote. Due to limited communication skills and intellectual impairment, my son is not able to express his preference to vote nor his choices on the issues and candidates. My gut tells me that I am respecting his dignity and freedom of choice by registering him to vote, doing my best to adapt the information to meet his level of understanding, and let him vote however that looks like–including drawing happy and frowney faces all over the ballot. What do others think?
Therese touches on this a little bit in her post (linked above) as well. Overall, it seems like you’re in the best position to know your son’s preferences and beliefs, as well as how best to help him understand the issues being voted on. I’d also be curious to hear what other parents and caregivers think and how they approach this process for adults.