Mom makes voting guide for son with autism

Mom makes voting guide for son with autism
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When Nathaniel Batchelder, a 28-year-old who has autism, voted Thursday in the midterm elections, "we were on such a high," said his mother, Susan Senator.

When Nathaniel Batchelder, a 28-year-old who has autism, voted Thursday in the midterm elections, “we were on such a high,” said his mother, Susan Senator.

Batchelder has “a pretty severe developmental disability and a lot of anxiety and communication issues, but he’s very eager to learn everything about the world,” said Senator, who has written books about autism and lives in the Boston area.

But had he lived somewhere else — in a state where laws place tighter voting restrictions based on “mental competence” — he might not have been able to cast his ballot at all, experts say.

Senator knew that she needed to come up with a way to make things as smooth as possible for her son. Batchelder voted for the first time in 2016, but when he voted in this year’s primaries, he felt anxious and rushed. He went through a couple of ballots before he was able to fill one out properly.

So Senator created a booklet for her son titled “Voting is really important. Here’s how to do it.”

The nine-page resource walks him through the process, complete with pictures of the ballot, which he could practice bubbling in, and reminders about the candidates running for different positions.

“Nat uses the pen to color in ONLY ONE CIRCLE: That is how you vote!” the guide says. “What are you going to be? Republican or Democrat?”

His dad read it with him, as did his caregivers — and right before voting, he practiced filling in the bubbles one by one. For Senator’s son, knowing the rules and structure beforehand is key in addressing his anxiety before he can exercise his civic duty.

“For any person, the more you know about how something works, the better you’re going to perform,” Senator said.

On the final page of her booklet: a photo of a ballot being inserted into the voting machine, with an encouraging note:

“Put the paper in the slot of the machine! You did it!”

‘More at stake’

Senator isn’t the only one trying to develop a voting resource for people like her son.

“Is this something that’s easily accessible or known about in the autism world? I don’t think so,” said Michael Bowman, senior developmental specialist at 3LPlace, an organization that provides support for adults with autism and other developmental disabilities in the Boston area.

Bowman has been putting together a