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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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Transitions to Adult Independence:

Money Management and the Basic Steps

Subtitle:  What Size are your Underpants?

Copyright 2000, 2005 © Roger N. Meyer®

 

 

 

     [This article is based on a response to the parent of a young adult with AS living under the family roof who is working.  The parent wrote to say that her son seems to have no concept of the value of money.  The article has been modestly updated to reflect the current status of the banking industry's move towards paperless transactions.]

 

      Money management.

 

     I think that of all issues, this is the most challenging when AS adults are still living under their parents' roof.  I won't address the issue of independent living further except to say that learning to manage money is the first of many essential life skills.  It is a precursor to learning the value of work and work's instrumental relationship to one's physical survival as an adult.

 

     Based on only what you've said, it appears your son is working without understanding what work really entails.  You haven't said how he got his job.  If you assisted in finding him the job, he may not appreciate a fact about work which connects obtaining employment with self-advocacy.  In addition to eventually learning about the intrinsic value of work (and its social, extrinsic significance), you might have short-circuited some of the process involved in self-determination, and self-advocacy.

 

     I'm not being critical here, but suggesting that in your interest to see him involved in a basic activity of adult life -- work, there may be some steps you overlooked.  Regardless of the value of the job and the interest he takes in it, he may not have learned the sequence involved in finding work, and negotiating its terms (including, of course, compensation).

 

     Difficult as it may seem at first, I'd recommend that a checking account be established for your son, and that you, as parent, remain trustee to his account.  This gives you the right to make deposits and otherwise access the account, but the checks themselves should not reflect your involvement.  The personal identifying information on them reflects his name, his address, and his other identifiers.  Once he learns how to manage his account, responsibly, as an adult he can end your trustee arrangement with the stroke of a pen.  For safety reasons, you may both wish to retain your status as a trustee, but that is for a different purpose than when you first opened it with your son, and on your son's behalf.

 

     I do not endorse savings accounts as "first time bank accounts" for income-earning young adults.

 

     Please note that a checking account is different than a savings account.  To withdraw cash from a savings account, most banks long ago went "paperless."  This means the while the customer or the bank teller can make out a withdrawal slip, the bank customer is rarely handed a copy of that slip or a statement indicating the account balance before and after the withdrawal.  Many banks have low, or no cost savings accounts that are deliberately paperless, based on a common-sense understanding that if there is a low amount of activity to the account, the bank is entitled to cut expenses by not issuing printed statements to its customers.  They are available electronically, available as an Internet convenience.  You have to pay extra for paper statements.

 

     Unless your son is into systematic and secure financial record keeping using his computer, I'd advise against this type of commercially convenient account.  It's great for the bank, but it may be inherently unsafe in the hands of a computer user inexperienced with the security issues inherent with the Internet.

 

     For the moment, let's not worry about the banking industry's current move to go paperless with checking accounts by authorizing merchants and intermediate banks to electronically enter check transactions through the federal reserve system and allow the destruction of the paper check as a physical record of that transaction.  Let's keep things simple for now.

 

     Just as children learn the connection between allowance and family chores, so your son may need to have formal lessons connecting his work with his own money earned.  For the moment, I would not recommend direct deposit of his paycheck to a checking account.  For mature, high-earning adults, such a feature is convenient and avoids having to directly handle the deposit.  For persons starting out in the world of work, physically handling their financial transactions with the bank and retailers is a way to learn the value of money and and its connection to work.

 

     I assume he wants to purchase things from his earnings.  While this seems a no-brainer for non-cognitively impaired folks, it is a significant "brainer" for many persons with developmental disabilities.  The word accounting has a derivative relationship to "counting."

 

     Balancing a check book may be way beyond his competence for the moment, but keeping tabs on his net earnings each time he makes a formal deposit, in person, to a real live teller in the bank, does a number of things at once.  Unless the bank has gone completely paperless and has no tellers, he will receive a receipt over the counter for his transaction.  He should be taught how to keep his receipts.

 

     Never underestimate the value of the multi-sensory aspect of the physical behaviors involved in banking.  He will be handed an envelope or the check.  He will have to read the face of the check to identify the amount of his pay.  He will have to write out that figure on a deposit slip, and physically endorse the check prior to the deposit.  He then speaks with the teller, a significant bit of social interaction found within the formalities of a business transaction.  He will associate this experience with the solemnity of handling money formally as opposed to what he has experienced up to this point at the family kitchen counter or however informally the family has been handling money transactions with him up to this point.

 

     The same social process, applies to his writing checks for significant purchases.  You may think it's convenient for him to continue providing pocket money for his small, daily expenses.  I encourage you to quickly wean yourself from this practice.  From the time he draws his first paycheck, he can also learn how to deposit his pay , less cash back to himself.  You might have to help him through the few multiple steps involved, mastering one step at a time, but he most likely can learn how to do this.

 

     For now, try to keep things simple.  Help him make the basic connection between the money he deposits and the purchase of special items that he identifies as satisfying a special interest.  It could be music CD's, or renting a video, or paying for anything requiring a record of purchase.  This cuts out entertainment such as movies or meals where receipts are casually discarded.  At least in the beginning.  The idea here is to assist him in understanding the simple math of money going in and money going out.  Simple addition and subtraction.  For the moment, he can start to use his transaction records issued over the counter as prompts towards learning the difficult challenge of managing a simple personal budget.

 

     Don't expect him to know how to balance his checkbook as a condition of opening an account.  Most people don't know how to do this, despite their "paper learning" in high school.  It takes time, and for some people, it's truly not worth the pain and agony.

 

     Remember, we're talking basics of money management.  Some of us never master the skill of balancing our checkbooks.  It may be less important for him to learn how to balance his bank account than to get on with other far more essential steps toward developing a solid sense of how to budget.

 

     To be right up front with you, I haven't learned how to exactly balance my checking account, and, frankly, I don't intend to.  But my resistance to learning this skill doesn't mean I'm totally without a means of determining how much money I have in the bank, or whether I'm approaching "empty."  When I think I'm getting low, I put on my stupid droopy eared, sad-eyed beagle face, approach a friendly teller, and plead ignorance.  I'm good at doing that, but I don't do it too often.  Anything gets too old if you play this game too often.  That's part of learning how to ask others to help you, the scripts to doing this I'm still developing and refining.

 

     Here I am, at 63, with an implicit and naive trust in my bank.  That's because I never learned how to balance a check book.

 

[I take that back.  I did, once.  It took me four, disastrous, tearful hours, and I vowed to never go through another experience like that again.  And I haven't.]

 

     I hated it.  I could never get the account to balance, and I finally decided that there were more important things in life than becoming fixated on my failure to balance my checkbook.  I hated the process so much that I always made sure I had more money IN the bank than I was spending.   I could count that much.  I know this sounds as though I am too trusting, but I have never been burned by the bank.  I keep my transactions simple, and I know how to read deposit amounts and check amounts.

 

     Getting back to basics.  The first purchases he should be making are for the small things he enjoys.  This establishes the positive relationship between the act of money management and the object of the act:  independence.  You should always have a little fun first before the first serious lessons take place.

 

     The next category of purchases should be geared to essentials, and a safe place to start is with clothing.  I suggest small articles at first.  I know it sounds ludicrous, but start with the very basic items of clothing he was first introduced to as a child:  underclothing.  Trite but true.  We all know of parents of adult kids, not disabled, who keep them in underwear.  Maybe this is just an American thing, but I've heard too many parents describe their "care packages" to their adult children -- long out of the house -- to know this is something completely idiosyncratic with my overly solicitous parents and grandparents.  So, start him off with buying his own underwear.

 

     It's amazing how much on automatic pilot adults are when buying this basic part of the wardrobe.  We know when the undergarments we wear are in need of replacement.  It's pretty obvious.  If he hasn't been made aware of the significance of this basic area of self-care, it's never too late to start.

 

     [For the moment, I don't want to go into a personal remniscence of how my twin sister and I and my younger sister and my mom in league with the devil always managed to have"underwear parties where we "helped" my dad divest himself of tattered union suits.  We did leave him with his dignity intact, but barely.  Somehow, that predatory instinct of small children and unrepentant wives got the better of us.]

 

     Encouraging him to replace his underwear accomplishes a couple of things.  It gets him aware of his body, literally.  You'd be surprised at how many autistic adults don't relate to their own clothing aside from some pretty obvious sensory preferences.  Many adults have poor proprioceptive sense.  This means they  aren't very well connnected with their body or its parts.  To buy underwear, he will have to know the size of his waist, and he also has to know the relative size of his torso for undershirts.  He can also be prompted to observe the condition of his underclothing, and when it needs replacement.  This, after all, is a part of adult self-care.

 

     If he has preferences for the type of undergarments he wears, he can be accompanied on shopping trips to find those exact items.  One point, however:  do this once and once only.  Don't make it convenient for him to expect you to be around the next time duty calls.  His first  shopping trip for necessities using his own money may be major "AHA" experience for him.

 

     We don't often think of basic exercises such as this as a part of a developmentally challenged person's self-determination.  But they are.  Making self-identity connections between one's concept of personhood with mundane items of clothing may not seem like much to a non-autistic adult.    We all know that self-care issues were among the most difficult items for our autistic kids to learn.  For many, they still are.  Many wives of AS men shop for their husbands in exactly the same way they shop for their other children.  That's because the supermoms in the AS man's childhood life are often replaced by super wives who do the same things for them as adults.

 

     Incidentally, I hope you see where we're heading.  Clothing choice is a basic adult activity.  It also is a first-impression issue for others.  Think about this for a moment:  If someone doesn't even know what size his underwear is, what does that suggest about the person?  I leave the answer to you, but propose to you that other persons form their impression of retail customers from things as mundane as their basic shopping habits.

 

     Sometimes, choice-making decisions for certain self-care items aren't easy.  Shopping for personal items that physically don't fit because you don't understand what fit means is different than shopping for deodorant or other small items of personal care.

 

     Mistakes in the fit of one's personal selection of clothing (of course, outer garments) are pretty obvious with adults.  Rather than go off on the tangent about the style or trendiness of outer garments and the social statements those choices involve, let's return to the simple challenge of basic money management issues and take things one step at a time.

 

     The automaticity of much family care of autistic children and young adults is truly mind boggling.  If you were to tote up the hours--nea, the years--you spend in picking up after, in attending to, in following-up, you have a good reason to want a rest from the regimen.  These simple, first steps will provide a process for your disengagement with your adult child, something that both parents and autistic children find very challenging.

 

     We need not go further into the specifics of financial self-management.  For the time being, learning the process of connecting it to basic pleasures and needs, is what is important.  The particular answers you come up with, in collaboration with your son, are going to be unique to your situation.  And to his.

 

     There are answers.  And he should have them sooner, rather than later, before you pass from of his life permanently.

 

     It may seem and overwhelming task, this business of disconnecting with one's immediate family support system over something as basic as money management.  However, recall his recollections of the positive lessons he's learned from his childhood and his adolescence.  Faced with an overwhelming number of "first time experiences" as an adult, help him break things into simple, accomplishable steps, each one assuring success.  The rest will follow.

 

     All these years you have been asking the question, "When?"

 

     At present, you are faced with the obvious:

 

     "Now."

 

Copyright Issues

 

This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.

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