Engaging in Political Discussions: Tips for Individuals with ASD
Posted on 01/27/21 in Relationships and Social Skills by Nathan Morgan, MSSA, LSW
Coming off a heated election cycle and with unrest in the U.S. Capitol, I’ve found myself fielding a lot of questions from self-advocates regarding how to engage in respectful and meaningful political discussions. The following are some tips that will hopefully prove helpful in navigating the conversations to come.
Staying silent doesn’t mean you are being polite.
A common expression I hear people use is, “it isn’t polite to talk politics.” In my opinion, this is an antiquated notion that comes from a place of immense privilege. I believe the saying, “everything is political” more closely represents the reality for many self-advocates.
For decades, disability rights advocates have worked tirelessly to ensure fair and equal treatment. The importance of self-advocacy has never been greater. Beyond that, many individuals with disabilities are coming forward to share about their intersecting identities and how they shape their very lives – racial and ethnic minorities, LGBT persons, and women on the spectrum to name a few all have unique experiences to share.
The issues being voted on often aren’t a choice between policy A and policy B where the outcome doesn’t matter – they impact our very ability to live our lives. Our identities are only “political” because individuals who don’t share our experiences disagree on how freely and fairly we can live our lives. Should some people with disabilities be paid less than minimum wage? Should we be included or excluded from activities and community settings? These are among some of the topics currently being discussed and they should always include the voices of individuals affected by these policies.
Saying, “I have the right to be treated like a human being,” isn’t impolite simply because it makes some people uncomfortable. Sometimes being uncomfortable is how we learn about the hardships faced by others – it can make us better people when we listen to others tell their stories and describe their challenges.
Note the time and place.
It is also important that we recognize when and where we are discussing our experiences. For example, if we are attending a video game group, then we should focus on the scheduled activity. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to bring up healthcare policy issues when others are just trying to figure out what color bricks they want to use to build a castle. There might also be rules your employer has regarding discussing certain topics in the workplace, so read your employee manual carefully or ask your supervisor for clarification of your workplace’s rules. A general tip is to ask yourself, “could I talk about hobbies or other interests I have during this time?” If the answer is yes, then you might also be able to talk about politics during that time. However, there are always exceptions to rules. If someone asks you to stop discussing a political issue right now,” it is respectful to apologize and discuss something different instead.
Target ideas, not people.
Being on the spectrum, I know firsthand how hard it can be to think in less concrete terms. Politics can be tricky because there are a lot of grey areas. Sometimes people may disagree with me on certain issues, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad people or that they disagree with me on all issues. Instead of personal attacks, such as, “you’re stupid for thinking that.” I would instead suggest targeting the idea that you disagree with and be clear as to why. For example, you can say, “I don’t like that view on healthcare, I think it costs more and is more difficult for people with disabilities to access.” All ideas have pros and cons, so sharing your views on a certain idea might help another person to see the issue the way you do. Similarly, you might learn new things, too. We can learn a lot from people who are different from us, or those who we disagree with.
Vet your sources.
A problem right now is that there is a lot of misinformation being shared. Misinformation is created to sound convincing or to make us upset – sometimes we don’t think as rationally when we’re angry or sad. Just because something is shared online or talked about by a lot of people doesn’t always mean it is true. Even though we should trust our family and friends, they can sometimes fall for this misinformation too. That’s why a question I always like to ask is “where did you see or hear that?” From there, I can look at who their sources of information are and determine if the information comes from a reliable place.
Here are three questions I ask myself to help me decide if information is truthful and reliable:
1) Is this news or an editorial? News is factual and includes as little personal opinions as possible. “Editorial” is a fancy word for an opinion. When you see TV shows where people sit on a couch to discuss the news, that is usually an editorial. Editorials can be helpful, but are sometimes made to make you angry or emotional so they can make more money by you watching their show more.
2) Who else is talking about this? Are other journalists talking about it or is it only some people on social media? Lots of times conspiracy theorists will try to convince you that they’re the only truthful source and nobody else should be listened to. If someone ever says they are the only source of the “truth,” that is often a good a sign that they’re lying to you.
3) Who are the sources for the information? For example, if I get news about new medical developments or disease prevention, I always check to be sure that I am hearing from a medical expert with a background in disease. Not all doctors learn the same things – a doctor who treats feet and ankles might not know much about diseases like COVID-19.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Nathan Morgan, MSSA, LSW, first connected with Milestones in 2015 as a professional intern. He then joined the Achievement Centers for Children as a full-time Early Childhood Mental Health Social Worker. Nathan returned to Milestones in 2018 in his current role as Early Intervention/School Age Coordinator. He is a self-advocate, actively sharing his experiences at events, on panels, local news, and our annual conference. Nathan has a BA in Psychology and Japanese from Kent State University and an MSSA from Case Western Reserve University.