This fall brings a big election season to the US, and with it come questions about how to best support the voting process among family members with ASD. Here, we’ll share some thoughts from previous posts on this topic https://theautismblog.seattlechildrens.org/ask-dr-emily-autism-and-voting/ , as well as updated resources and guidance.
As teens turn 18, they may become eligible to vote in the US, depending on their citizenship and guardianship circumstances. Families can approach this milestone in a lot of ways depending on their teen’s preferences and interests — some teens will be excited to have a say in big decisions, while others may uninterested.
In some families, a teen’s preferences around voting might not be clear. Katrina Davis, mother of a 21-year-old son with severe autism, says “Due to his limited communication ability 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 on a mock ballot or using pictures, drawings, and words to bring the issues and candidates to life. As his mother and legal guardian, I am in the best position to know my son’s preferences and beliefs, as well as how best to help him understand the issues being voted on. And I also think it’s important that he have opportunities to learn from his peers and other family members.”
Taylor Robb, autistic self-advocate, shares his thoughts about voting. “Voting is a right that we all deserve to participate in. Those with Autism or other intellectual disabilities often struggle with voting, as the complexities of the task might overwhelm them. Or they simply might not have the interest in voting. However, this challenge should not deprive them of their right. The issues can be made simple for them, such as if they like to go to the library or parks, then they should vote for increase funding for those services. If they are apathetic to the idea, find things that interest them and make it relatable to voting, similar to the above example. It might seem like a challenging task to get some people with autism to vote, but it can be done.”
For folks who do have an interest in voting, it’s important to get registered in time to vote! The process is different for each state, but information is here:
• In Washington state: https://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/
• National information, available through the American Association of People with Disabilities: https://www.aapd.com/advocacy/voting/
Once someone is registered to vote, their family members can support them in a variety of ways. As Therese Vafaeezadeh, ARNP, pointed out in a previous blog post https://theautismblog.seattlechildrens.org/autism-and-voting/, families can “…discuss the voting process, direct them to the voter’s pamphlet, encourage them to listen to debates or follow articles on important issues. Provide them as much information as possible to help them make an informed vote.” But she cautions that some people may not wish to vote, even when they’ve learned all about the process, and that respecting that choice is important as well.
Whatever their participation looks like, teens and younger children can benefit from emotional support around this time of year. Seeing media coverage of campaigns and political events, hearing friends and family members discussing heated topics, and coping with the uncertainty of change can amplify stress for everyone – autism or not!
Find some guidance for supporting the whole family at these links below:
• Talking to children about the Election – American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/topics/talking-children-election
• Tips for facing election season stress – CHADD: https://chadd.org/adhd-weekly/tips-for-facing-election-season-stress/
Finally, see these resources for more information:
• Autism Speaks: https://www.autismspeaks.org/vote2020
• The Arc: https://thearc.org/vote/
• CHADD: https://chadd.org/adhd-weekly/exercise-your-right-register-to-vote-now/