Teaching Financial Skills to Teens With Learning Disabilities
Almost 3 million children in the United States have learning disability (LDs). Different types of LDs have different effects on a child’s ability to perceive, comprehend, and interpret information, and these effects can last into adulthood. For example, dyslexia and dysnumeria can make financial calculations difficult, and temporal problems can lead to a tendency to pay bills late.
Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D. is an active psychologist who specializes in young adults with LDs. She presents a number of suggestions for parents interacting with middle and high school-aged children to help overcome financial and consumer struggles due to learning disabilities.
1. Orient your child to a variety of types of stores. As you visit grocery stores, department stores, pharmacies, etc., discuss the layout of the stores with the child. Allow them to help find the products you intend to buy by looking for the posted signs and similar items.
2. Help your child learn the sizes of the shoes and clothing she wears. Dr. Roffman indicates that many parents continue choosing clothing for children with LDs beyond the point the parents would stop and allow the children to choose otherwise. As children grow up, they should be allowed to express their personalities and start defining their own “image” through clothing like their peers.
3. Discuss tipping with your teen. Charts and calculators are available to help determine the percentage of a bill for tipping. If a child is involved in the tipping process when dining out with his family, he will likely be more comfortable when placed in these situations without parents as he becomes more independent. Also discuss the “going rates” for other service providers, like bellhops.
4. Counsel her about credit cards. Some aspects of credit cards are difficult to understand even without a learning disability. Dr. Roffman suggests discussing credit cards with a child once they start receiving credit offers in the mail, but I would suggest starting sooner. Middle school or early high school is probably a more appropriate age. They will have already noticed their parents’ spending habits at this point or have friends who use their parents’ credit cards.
5. Teach your teen about basic contracts. Warn teens against high-pressure sales tactics. Explain how contracts work (cell phone contracts, for example) and pay attention to the details, like termination fees and other traps.
6. Establish a basic budget early in the teen years. If you provide an allowance to your child or if he earns money from working, help him create a spending and saving plan.
7. Encourage her to use a “budget envelopes” book. The “envelope” system of budgeting is a simple method to maintaining a budget. If taken literally by using real envelopes and real cash, the concrete and tactile nature of the activity can be beneficial for a child with LD.
8. Toward the end of high school, teens need to learn how to manage a checkbook and pay bills. Dr. Roffman offers a great suggestion. Children with LDs may find the choice of carbon copy (duplicate) checks more beneficial. Dysgraphia can be a strong obstacle in writing checks, so you can slip in a “cheat sheet” into the checkbook if necessary, including proper spellings of numbers.
9. Help your teen set up a home office at a desk table. This suggestion seems to acclimate children towards working at a desk job, like many people in the United States. It also provides a central location for all the tools of money management, including the checkbook, the computer with Quicken for tracking financial accounts, and a paper file for maintaining records and bills.
Most of the suggestions above work well for children without learning disabilities as well, but children with LDs will face some extra challenges as they grow into adult consumers.
National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities
Dollars and Sense: Teaching Teens with LD Consumer Skills and Money Management