Preparing Autistic Teens for Adulthood: Money Management

Money management is a concern for most of us, but it can be especially daunting for autistics as they step into the world as an independent adult. As parents, we can prepare our autistic teens, and younger children as well, to handle money by teaching budgeting, careful spending, and monitoring finances. And If you are an autistic adult struggling with handling money, it is never too late for you to learn new financial skills.

How Autism Can Affect Money Management

Even though this can look different for every autistic person, autistic individuals – especially children, commonly struggle with executive functioning. Individuals with executive dysfunction can lack acquired motivation to achieve goals and prepare for normal events in day-to-day life (i.e., money management), and they often experience difficulties picking up on skills such as organization, planning, and reasoning without guided learning experiences. Despite these challenges, autistic individuals can learn to manage money.

Advice from An Autistic Adult

“When people with autism become teenagers and adults, we tend to want a lot of stuff,” says Lois Scarantino, autistic advocate, speaker, and writer for The Mighty. “This may include movies, video games, or anything else we love to collect that may look like junk to other people. We may also want to eat out at restaurants and go other places. But this becomes a problem when we buy too much and don’t have money for the important things. People will say to us, ‘stop buying that stuff, you don’t need it’ and ‘go out less.’ When we hear advice like that, we’re not trying to ignore you, but money management is so hard for many of us.”

To help individuals with autism learn to manage money better, Lois advises, work with them on being more independent.

How to Help Your Teen Develop Money Management Skills

Address the subject of money management as early as possible in your teen or child’s life. The younger the teaching starts, the more ingrained the information and skills will be as they age toward adulthood. Always presume competence. Teach your child money-handling skills in their unique learning style of communication. Provide guidance, but do not overcompensate.

Let your child be challenged by what they are learning. Competence is the ability of your child to do something successfully, and this is what we want. We want our autistic children to learn how to handle life skills, such as money management so that they can someday live on their own. Focus on teaching money management one concept at a time. Break the process down into manageable and clear steps.

Here are some steps that can help your child build money management skills:

1. Start an allowance and help your child save for special items.

A cash management system is an uncomplicated way to get your child started with money-handling skills. Use an envelope system. Help your child decide what they are saving for, or what they want to spend their money on. Teach your child to break their cash allowance down into multiple labeled envelopes:

  • Savings for a special item at a store
  • Savings for the future
  • Savings for small treats (i.e., ice cream, thrift store or garage sale items, fast food, etc.)

Example: Your teen saved for treats but spent less money when they went out. Encourage your teen to ‘deposit’ the money left over into another envelope, such as savings for the future or for something special. This will encourage them as they see their money grow!

2. Teach savings and earnings through a planning app or a chart on the computer.

Your teen may appreciate the ‘visual’ learning tool of savings through an app or a computer-generated chart. This will help them see how the growth of savings goes up and how it goes down when withdrawn. Many apps also include a chore system, showing what needs to be done today, for example, and what is paid (i.e., an IOU from you) upon completion.

3. Teach short and long-term goals.

Many goals in life require money, and some are more difficult to obtain. An example of a long-term goal might be something that your teen wants to purchase and take with them someday when they move into a place of their own. Your child may want to buy a top-of-the-line computer, but you can show them how they can get a good laptop sooner that costs less money. This will teach your child the importance of saving and shopping smart.

4. Set up a bank account or a debit card with third-party controls.

Many banks have special accounts for children at no cost. Going to the bank will help your teen or younger child get used to the experience of completing a transaction at the bank. Teach your child how to read and balance their bank statement. Whether it is in print or online, the visual tool will help your child experience the inner workings of savings and transactions. If you prefer online banking with debit cards for kids, you might consider one of these debit or credit cards for children and teens, with third-party or parental controls. Several of these apps offer investment options, earnings for allowances, savings rewards, and cash back.

5. Explain credit/debit, interest rates, insurance, investing, and retirement.

As a parent, you may need to brush up on your knowledge of financial terms and then help your teen learn the concepts one at a time. We saved this step for last. The model of money management with a cash system derived from an allowance is much easier to absorb than important financial terms like credit/debit, interest rates, insurance, investing, and retirement. Money management is crucial to understand in life as a young adult. By preparing your autistic teen how to handle money, and to understand how finances will affect their entire life, you are helping them achieve the necessary skills to be a successful and independent adult.

Resources for Education, Connection, and Support

We all want our children to reach success in life. You are not alone in this journey. Whether you are new to the world of autism or have spent years trying to find answers, we can put you in touch with the resources and people to help you move forward. If you’d like to talk to RDI® professionals, parents just like you, and adults on the spectrum, join our online learning community.

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