money managment for boy with autism looking at piles of money with his piggy bank

How to Teach Money Management for Independent Living with Autism

Becoming an independent adult with ASD involves a large skill set that needs to be planned out over the lifetime of your child. I recently posted an article on establishing clear guidelines around sexuality early on. Money management is no different. Being able to pay for items and stick to a budget is a barrier to successful independence. Many people – even those without autism- can’t manage finances or handle money responsibly, directly impacting their quality of life, and ability to live on their own.

A recent study, “Financial Capabilities Among Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” was conducted through the University of Missouri and was intended to shed light on exactly this issue. The study was conducted by interviewing youth with ASD between 16-25, and found that most individuals not only recognized that financial understanding was an essential part of being independent adults, but also felt very frustrated with their money management skill-set, or lack thereof.

Money management is not seen as an important part of the curriculum for ASD children

While most of the early years for children with autism are spent in all kinds of therapy and lessons, most of those are around verbal or reading literacy, and normalizing behaviours. For most children, no time is spent at all learning about money.

“Despite the importance of financial autonomy and the increased independence that comes from understanding money, financial management and decision-making often are seen as outside the purview of professionals working with young people with autism,” said Clark Peters, co-author of the study and associate professor in the MU School of Social Work. “Educational programs that include financial literacy in both schools and independent living programs could increase autonomy and quality of life for people with autism.”

So how can we help those with autism learn to manage money?

As with learning anything when you have ASD the more ingrained it becomes at an early age, the better. It would be excellent if educational institutions recognized the importance of financial planning and incorporated it into early education programs. Until then, parents can help by addressing money as early as possible, just like any of the other life skills you want to help your child develop.

Regions Bank in the United States recently announced its intention to make its 1500 branches autism friendly. Along with employee training, each branch will have a designated quiet area and sensory bags with items meant to help those feeling overwhelmed. There’s a green stress ball and earbuds to help block out sound. Hopefully more banks in Canada and globally will adopt these kinds of measures, but in the meantime here are some things you can do to help your child improve their money management skills.

1)Have your child pay for items at the store

If you have a quick errand to run, this can be a good time to start allowing your child to pay for small grocery amounts.

Tip for success:
make sure it is a store the child knows and feels comfortable in, preferably with a cashier that your child has already met. Choose a time when the store isn’t busy so that neither your child or other shoppers get frustrated.

2)Give your child an allowance and help them save up for special items

While there is some controversy around whether or not your child should be “paid” for chores, most sources agree that giving your child a weekly allowance allows them to earn their own money and begins the idea of savings and budgeting. The key here is to enable your child to come up with a “dream buy”, and then help them save for that item or experience.

Tip for success: try not to judge or influence your child’s choice of item that they want to save for. It doesn’t need to be practical or what you would like. The key here is to give them the inspiration to WANT to save, and then teach them the process of how to do it.

3)Set up a bank account for your child

Many banks have free accounts, or special accounts, for children. Helping your child set up an account at a young age allows them lots of time to become accustomed to how a bank account works. Even though many of us bank online, it’s a good idea is to start taking your child at a young age to the bank in person. Get the used to the building, process, and even the individual tellers.

Tip for success: choose banking times or hours when there aren’t many people in there. You can call the bank to find out when that might be. If your child has a favourite teller, ask if you can come in during that time.

Further Reading

Life Skills Activities for Special Children, 2nd. Edition

Teaching Math to People with Down Syndrome and Other Hands-On Learners: Basic Survival Skills – 2nd. Edition

Steps to Independence – Teaching Everyday Skills to Children with Special Needs

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  1. My 21-year-old daughter has a nonverbal learning disability (which I see as pretty much a cousin to Asperger’s). I’ve done what you’ve set out above for both my girls, but at this point, the daughter with NLD (who is much less challenged than her sister) is having huge money management issues and I can’t seem to find anything or anyone out there suitable to help. She is in her second year of university and admittedly, is handling large amounts of money with her Student Loan, but … I don’t know how you can effectively “lose” $2000 that should have been earmarked for tuition (first year) or a similar amount that was to go toward living expenses the second year – she “prepaid” her groceries by paying $1000 on each credit card even though she owed each card less than $100. There is a lot of online material to teach money mgmt to high school and college students, but I’m pretty sure my daughter is going to need an actual person working through it with her. Thoughts? Thanks.

  2. Maureen your article was right on time again. We have been since both our boys were little paying them for age appropriate chores and have separated their allowance by putting it into two categories. One to be speny right away and the other towards something they were saving up for. They get to decide how much or how little they chose to put into either jar of allowance earnings. It was up to them how long the chose to wait for saving or not. The spent me now jar gets spent often but it really helped them to leave the longer saving allowance alone. They have both felt so proud in earning & paying for something they wanted. Even the spend me now had helps in getting them to understand estimating how much they may need to see if they have enough & then pay for it with change back. Like an ice cream on a hot day, they have estimated how much they need to bring with them. They have ordered it, paid for it with their estimated allowance from the spend me now jar & had enough change leftover. It is their choice to either put it back in the spend me jar or get some else. Usually it is spent but occasionally they have surprised us & chose to put it back into their spend me now jar for an ice cream on another hot day like lol. So it does work. Eventually I would like to transition this to an actually back account idea. They both have their own bank account set up but if they realized how much money there is they’d spend all of it. Some I need to structure it more like I do with the allowance. A spend me now account & a more long term saving one for future understanding in preparing for life situation. Your article will enable me to tweak things all in the right direct. Thank you for a great article.

  3. Lynn Kennedy says:

    My 22 yr old son now does all his banking on his own. He has a part time job as well a couple of days a week and has learned the value of (his)money. The bank (TD) was excellent in working with him when we set up his bank account for his ODSP, treating him with respect and care. All the tellers are terrific and he is confident now. He even gave me money to put into his RDSP once I explained what it was for and how it worked. He is extremely careful with his spending and keeps track of what he has remaining in his account. Money management is so important and I agree, I wish I’d learned more skills in high school around this issue. Thank you!

    • Maureen Bennie says:

      Thank you, Lynn, for sharing your son’s story. It’s such a positive one and will give many of us courage to do the same for our children. I think banks are starting to realize our children are good customers that need some extra care and guidance. Well done!

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