Dollars and sense: Financial skills for teens with learning disabilities

Help your child with LD or AD/HD develop his money management know-how with these expert tips.

By Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D.

Becoming a responsible consumer is essential for adjusting to adult life, yet many adults with learning disabilities (LD) rank handling money and banking as the most difficult among the problems they encounter. Problems in this area are often tied to specific characteristics of LD or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD). This article describes common pitfalls and offers parents strategies for providing teens with LD or AD/HD a foundation of money management know-how necessary for independent living.

The table below illustrates some of the ways various characteristics of LD and AD/HD can result in financial challenges.

Learning or attention problem Challenges when managing money
Impulsivity Problems with impulse buying beyond the limit of one's budget
Memory problems Difficulty remembering to record bank transactions (for example, ATM cash withdrawals)
Temporal problems Issues with remembering to pay bills on time
Organizational problems Difficulty gathering all the items (monthly statement, check register, calculator, etc.) necessary to balance one's checkbook
Distractibility Trouble maintaining concentration during the process of reviewing one's checking account
Visual discrimination Tendency to make errors in calculation due to number inversions (for example, writing "61" or "19" instead of "16")
Spatial issues Tendency to misalign numbers in the check register columns, leading to computation errors
Visual figure-ground problems (focusing on one image against a busy background) Problems focusing on individual lines of the monthly bank statement
Reading Trouble reading store signs (or price tags), notices from the bank, and contracts (for instance, for membership to a gym)
Spelling Difficulty spelling numbers correctly when writing out checks
Math Problems performing mental math (estimating how much an item on sale at 25% off will cost, for instance, or knowing how much change to expect when making purchases); difficulty performing calculations involved in reconciling a checking account


Teaching your teen financial skills

Money management skills can be introduced very early, with children in the lower elementary school grades learning the value of the coins and currency they save in their piggybanks and having your guidance when deciding how to spend their savings. As your child with LD or AD/HD matures, you should gradually introduce more complex skills, such as budgeting and managing a checking account.

Here are some strategies for teaching consumer skills and money management during your child's middle and high school years:

Consumer skills

Money management

The role of technology in managing money

Teens who are comfortable with technology may find budgeting software like Quicken and online banking services helpful in managing their money. If your teen has access to her checking and savings accounts online, she can check her transactions and balance — and transfer money between accounts — without having to wait for the monthly statement to arrive by mail.

Building a foundation for your teen's financial future

Parents who make a point of teaching their teens with LD or AD/HD consumer skills and money management skills will help them avoid many of the problems that surface for adults in this population. When your teen prepares to leave home after high school, assure her that you will continue to be available for support and advice as she puts her new money management skills to practice.


Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D., an expert on transition issues in special education, is a Professor at Lesley University, where she served as founding director of Threshold, a transition program for young adults with learning disabilities, from 1981 to 1996. She has served on the professional advisory boards of several national LD organizations and maintains a private practice in psychology.