At age 18, unless guardianship has been established, all US citizens obtain the legal right to vote. Some 18 year olds pay no attention to elections, while others may have more interest in the process. This is true whether a teen has autism or not. How does a parent know if their teen is ready to vote? As a parent you have supported your child through their first 18 years. Ideally you have provided them the right amount of support to be as successful and independent as possible. Over the years you have learned your son or daughter’s strengths and challenges and will have a pretty good idea if your teen is ready to vote. Some of the questions to consider are, does your son/daughter show any interest in the election process, do they ask questions regarding the candidates or ballot measures? If yes, then you can sit down with your teen once the voter’s pamphlet arrives. You will know how much time your teen will spend reading over the information and how much time you should allot for discussion prior to the election. Obtaining a mail in ballot allows the voter to take their time while casting their vote.
You might feel that your teen is not ready to vote at age 18; however, as mentioned above, unless you have legal guardianship of your teen, they do have that right. In order to support your teen’s choice you 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. If your teen does not show an interest in voting you can consider having a discussion with them about the process so you know they have an understanding of this right. Ultimately, just as choosing to vote is a choice, choosing not to vote is a choice as well.
For another perspective, we recently sat down with Isaac, a 17 year old patient at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, who shared his thoughts on voting.
Have you ever voted? Or do you plan to?
Isaac: I haven’t because I’m only 17, but when I’m 18 I will. The way the election system is, it’s better to have more people have a say than not.
When did you start to get interested in voting or the way government works?
Isaac: When I was about 16 and a half. We’re also learning about the electoral college and American government at school. I also volunteered for a candidate, making phone calls to constituents.
How can parents know if their child is mature enough to vote?
Isaac: Honestly, I don’t think maturity and responsibility have anything to do with voting. People are going to vote based on what their emotions tell them is right.
Anything else you want to say?
Isaac: If you don’t vote, you’re missing out. Your voice does have the power to change things, but if you don’t use you’ll lose it.
For information on this topic please see autismvotes.org