The Financial And Spending Challenges People With Learning Differences Face

Man paying for holiday gifts using a credit card. getty All consumers are getting hit hard by inflation, especially in the height of the high-spend holiday season. But, according to Dr. Andrew Kahn, Psy.D, for the 70 million Americans with Learning and Thinking Differences (LTDs), some of the challenges they may face with impulsivity and information processing can make this holiday season even trickier to manage. Kahn is a licensed psychologist specializing in working with individuals who think and learn differently. He is the Associate Director, Behavior Change & Expertise at Understood.org, a nonprofit focused on supporting the millions of Americans with LTDs, such as ADHD and dyslexia. Finances are difficult to manage even without holiday spending or inflation. The financial world is loaded with pressures to spend money. Companies and credit cards use sophisticated tactics to lure consumers into opportunities to spend and engage in financial relationships that are mostly beneficial to the person getting your money. These pressures are hard for anyone to maneuver, but according to Kahn, people with LTDs are especially vulnerable. There are a wide range of financial challenges for neurodivergent adults. Overall, people with LTDs have a difference around executive function. This is the ability to take in information, organize it, put it into categories and plan how to make use of this information. How this presents financial challenges vary on the specific LTDs. Dyscalculia impairs an individual’s ability to learn number-related concepts, perform accurate math calculations, reason and problem solve. This causes people to struggle to understand a tip or bill. Dr Kahn says that something like, ‘Just give an extra 10%’ may be hard to understand, and these calculations take some decoding. People with dyscalculia often go on autopilot, Kahn says. They accept that they will get charged for what they get charged, and this makes it easy to get victimized, or at least be uninformed about what they are spending. Dyslexia involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words. The financial world is full of advertisements, sales, credit card statements, lease terms and contracts. Kahn illustrates the ubiquitous of written financial agreements with Store Reward Cards. Think about when you are at any store and the cashier asks if you want to sign up for a Rewards Card. They make it so easy – all you have to do is say ‘yes’, and click a button. Difficulty reading and comprehending what you read makes it hard to process this information, and determine the right decision.” ADHD consists of trouble paying attention and challenges with impulsivity. People with ADHD find it difficult to think before they act, and are susceptible to their own energy levels and cognitive overactivity, according to Kahn. This creates several issues when managing money. The lack of attention to detail poses a challenge because it’s hard to sort out all of the financial information floating around. They may only hear one detail of a deal, rather than all the details, which makes it impossible to make an informed decision. Impulsivity can create problems with spending. Kahn says an ADHD brain craves dopamine, and buying something can give it that surge it’s looking for. Kahn summarizes that people with any LTD may have difficulty with the overall ability to comprehend the information about their purchases. This directly affects things like understanding wants versus needs, how to prioritize and ultimately how to make decisions. The good news is there are strategies that people with LTDs can use to help make smart financial decisions and manage their finances. Self-awareness. Kahn says most important is to understand who you are and learn everything you can about your LTD. The more you know about your vulnerabilities, strengths, weaknesses and decision making process, the better equipped you will be to create strategies to manage your financial world. Have a spending plan. “Unlike being in school where you have to take a test in a classroom that you could fail, spending and shopping are an open book test. You don’t have to give an immediate answer. The beauty of the internet is that you can do your research before spending money or signing a contract. Learn in advance what things cost and where they are available, so you can create a plan that will help you not overspend or buy things you don’t need. Manage impulsivity: Again, it’s critical to understand where your weakness lies. Shopping can give those with ADHD dopamine, which they crave. Kahn compares shopping without a plan to going to the grocery store when you’re hungry. If you’re shopping online, he suggests using the 12 hour rule. Put the item you want to purchase in your cart, then wait 12 hours before purchasing it. Then ask yourself, ‘Does it still feel good to make the choice?’. If you can push the pause button it allows you to determine if it’s the dopamine guiding your decision to spend, or if it’s actually a good purchase. Hold off on credit cards: Kahn suggests that people with LTDs first should be sure they have created healthy spending habits before they start accumulating credit cards. Credit cards are a great tool for people who will pay it off each month. But not paying it off can be very dangerous, and then the credit card only benefits the bank, not the consumer.” Parents of children and teens with LTDs can begin helping their kids create healthy financial habits now to prevent financial issues as an adult. Kahn says the most valuable thing a parent can do is to talk to their child about finance. “As parents, a general rule is we discuss the big moments with our kids that could cause potential risks in their lives. We spend a lot of time training and teaching them to drive, so they avoid crashing a car. We may discuss dating and relationships to avoid teen pregnancy. However, destroying your finances and credit can irreparably harm your child’s future, and we rarely discuss it. Parents may avoid the topic because they are intimidated about finance, or never learned it themselves. Teaching financial literacy from an early age, and taking away the stigma around money through conversations with your kids, is the best way to prepare them for a financially healthy adulthood. Books like ‘Beyond Piggy Banks and Lemonade Stands: How to Teach Young Kids About Finance’ can provide parents with a guide to teaching their kids. Similar to adults that have LTDs, parents should also work to understand and diagnose their child’s LTD. Kahn warns that if an LTD in a child is undiagnosed for a long time, they are much more likely to have emotional issues as an adult. This comes from years of feeling down on themselves, thinking they are dumb or not understanding why they can’t learn like everyone else. Kahn draws a parallel to financial literacy. “The longer we go without training people on financial literacy, the greater the chance of having financial disaster. This also leads to mental and emotional concerns as an adult- ‘I have no buying power. I have bad credit. I can’t do the things I need and want as an adult because I made poor choices with my finances.’” Regardless of someone’s LTD or age, it is never too late to learn how to be financially healthy, Kahn says. Simple research, planning and knowledge can be applied to any financial situation to help guide them and make smart financial decisions, which ultimately leads to financial health. For more information, tools and resources on LTDs, visit Understood.org.

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