Teaching Financial Independence The Building Blocks of Financial Literacy
Teaching financial literacy to teens and young adults is critically important regardless of whether they have a disability or not. Financial literacy is a complex behavior that is the cornerstone of independent living. Simply put, financial literacy is the understanding of one’s finances, the use and value of money, and how to navigate various financial systems (e.g. banks, credit card companies, the I.R.S., a company’s payroll system, and social service entitlements). Financial literacy is a behavior consisting of a series of basic building blocks. These building blocks should be addressed early in a child’s education and include behaviors such as number recognition, counting, identification of denominations of coins and bills, and basic arithmetic skills (i.e., addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). Without these basic building blocks in place, a student will struggle with more complex financial literacy behaviors such as setting a budget and reconciling a check book or credit card account. By the time a student reaches high school they should be ready to learn these higher level financial literacy skills.
Value of Money an Abstract Concept
However, higher functioning students with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) or students with intellectual disabilities may struggle with learning the basic building blocks. Adaptive skills must be taught to compensate for areas of disability. For example, if a student has difficulty with arithmetic skills, then he or she must be taught how to use a calculator.
A much more difficult concept to teach is the value of money. Money is an abstract concept that is difficult to grasp especially for students with an autism spectrum disorder or an intellectual disability. Money is actually very strange. It has no inherent value like a precious metal such as gold or silver. You cannot make anything out of it. It is actually a promissory note backed by the federal government. We exchange it for goods and services. The government promises or backs it value. VanBergeijk and Cavanagh (2012) describe a system for teaching elementary school age children the value of money while simultaneously reinforcing not only financial literacy skills, but other independent living skills as well. The system incorporates the use of positive reinforcement, a token economy, specific savings plans and goals, and the use of natural and logical consequences. Use of this system not only teaches the basic building blocks of financial literacy, but also helps the parent gauge if his or her son or daughter is able to understand the value of money.
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