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 (ADHD). This article describes common pitfalls and offers parents strategies for providing teens with LD or ADHD a foundation of money management know-how necessary for independent living.
The table below illustrates some of the ways various characteristics of LD and ADHD 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 ADHD 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:
- Orient your child to a variety of types of stores, such as the drugstore, grocery store, and department store. In each store, note the layout and the groupings of items. Point out the aisle signs and conduct “think alouds” as you shop (for example, “We need some Band-Aids, so I’m going to the aisle that says first aid. If I can’t find them there, I can ask the clerk at the cash register where they are.”) By middle school your child should be able to find items she commonly uses (school supplies, hair products, etc). By the end of high school, she should be able to shop on her own at any of these stores for basic items.
- Help your child learn the sizes of the shoes and clothing she wears. Too many parents of middle and even high school students with LD and ADHD continue to choose their children’s clothing well beyond the point when this type of control is appropriate. By middle school, your child should be able to choose her own clothing, within guidelines you have set. This is one way you can foster the self-determination necessary for successful adjustment to adult life.
- Discuss tipping with your teen. List the kinds of people she might tip (waiters, bellhops, etc.) and how to determine the tip for each person based on the quality of service and the going rate. When you dine out together, have your teen calculate the tip using a tip chart (available in most stationery stores).
- Counsel her about credit cards. Explain how credit cards work as well as the associated dangers of using them. When your teen reaches age 18, numerous banks will start sending her invitations to apply for credit cards. Choose one reputable bank, and have her apply for a card with a credit limit of $500 or less. Discuss with her what may be charged, and walk her through the process of paying the monthly bills — preferably in full to avoid paying interest while still establishing her credit history.
- Teach your teen about basic contracts, such as rental leases, gym memberships, cell phone agreements, and Internet service contracts. Warn her about high-pressure sales tactics that offer a special price “only if you sign up today.”
- Establish a basic budget early in the teen years. Have your teen list all of her anticipated expenses, including school lunches, entertainment, clothing, and miscellaneous items (for example, CDs or snacks) and establish a weekly budget to manage her allowance and earnings from any jobs she may have.
- Encourage her to use a “budget envelopes” book, an inexpensive and handy tool, available in most stationery stores, which has separate envelopes for each specific budget category. She should place enough cash for her various budget categories in each envelope at the beginning of every week and make a commitment to spend the allotted funds only for the stated purposes. This is a very concrete way to develop the concept of budgeting and is a highly recommended first step in the process of learning how to manage money.
- Toward the end of high school, teens need to learn how to manage a checkbook and pay bills. Opening her own checking account is the best vehicle for learning this skill. Many youths with LD or ADHD prefer carbon checks, which help ensure that transactions are recorded. After teaching your teen how to write a check, slip an example of a completed check into her checkbook to remind her of how it’s done. Provide a crib sheet with correctly spelled numbers to be kept in her checkbook for easy reference when writing checks.
- Help your teen set up a home office at a desk table where she can keep all the items needed for successful money management and bill paying, including: supplies (paper, pens and pencils, tape, a ruler, paper clips, a stapler, stamps, and a calculator); an accordion file, where important papers may be filed under separate headings, such as “bank statements” or “unpaid bills”; a budget book to record expenditures and realistically estimate future expenses; a calendar, which can be used to note the receipt of monthly bills and to record when each is due (Posthill & Roffman, 1991).
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.
- Posthill, S. & Roffman, A. (1991). The impact of a transitional training program for young adults with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 24(3), 619-629.
- Roffman, A. Herzog, J & Wershba, P. (1994). Helping young adults understand their learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 27 (7), 413-4