Teaching financial skills to children with learning disabilities

As many as 1 out of every 5 people in the United States has a learning disability. Almost 3 million children (ages 6 through 21) have some form of a learning disability and receive special education in school.

Different types of learning disabilities 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 learning disabilities. 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.

  • 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 (e.g., 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 youth with LD and/or AD/HD 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 in which she may 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).