Partner Series: Supporting Adults With Autism/IDD as a Financial Coach

A Guest Blog By Taryn Oesch, CPTM | Board Secretary |  The Power of the Dream

A 2014 report by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions found that twice as many adults with disabilities live in poverty than adults without disabilities, that fewer than 30 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities work, and that American households that include an adult with a disability earn 38.4 percent less than households that don’t.

For individuals with autism or intellectual/developmental disabilities (IDD), the numbers are, perhaps, even more alarming. The unemployment rate among people with intellectual disabilities is more than twice as high as the rate for the general population, and only 26 percent of adults with intellectual disabilities who do work have full-time jobs. About 85 percent of college-educated adults with autism are unemployed, and more are underemployed.

Clearly, financial support is critical for individuals with autism/IDD. With the high prevalence of autism/IDD (about 1.5 million people in the U.S. have autism, and about 6.5 million have an intellectual disability) and the high rate of financial struggles among those people, you’re likely to work with at least one person with autism/IDD, or a person with a close family member with autism/IDD. How can you help?

What Are Autism/IDD?

First of all, what are autism/IDD?

Autism spectrum disorder, often called autism or ASD, encompasses a range of symptoms and levels of severity. They include difficulties with social communication and interactions; repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities; and difficulties developing and maintaining social relationships. It includes Asperger’s syndrome, which is no longer an official diagnosis but which many individuals still use to identify themselves as people with autism who typically have less or no impairment in cognitive or language development.

An intellectual disability is what it sounds like – an impairment in intellectual functioning and what’s known as adaptive behaviors (social and practical skills). A developmental disability is a cognitive and/or physical impairment diagnosed before the age of 22 that limits the person in three or more of these areas: self-care, receptive and expressive language, learning, mobility, self-direction, capacity for independent living, or economic self-sufficiency. Common intellectual and developmental disabilities include Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, ASD and cerebral palsy.

Coaching Adults With Autism/IDD

Many of the goals of financial coaching for individuals with autism/IDD and their families are similar to the financial coaching goals for individuals without disabilities. They include:

  • Identifying financial goals and developing a plan to achieve them
  • Asset-building, including creating an easy-to-use spending planner, enrolling in eligible benefits, creating a savings plan, and understanding ABLE accounts (if applicable)
  • Opening and managing a bank account
  • Understanding and managing credit, including checking credit scores, building and repairing credit, and avoiding or remedying identity theft
  • Managing debt, including understanding and paying bills, learning about bankruptcy (if applicable), and managing student loan payments (if applicable)
  • Paying taxes, including knowing where to obtain free tax preparation, understanding available tax credits, and understanding and saving tax refunds
  • Finding additional help, including referrals to legal help and benefits resources

Working with individuals with autism/IDD requires the same basics that any coaching relationship does, like building trust, being client-centered and focusing on strengths. However, there are some guidelines you should follow to provide the best service to these clients:

  • Provide clear, easy-to-understand communication. This means using straightforward language and providing visual aids instead of too much written communication.
  • Understand government benefits for people with disabilities, and be able to make recommendations to your clients based on their goals, employment status and other factors.
  • Help individuals understand and build on their skills and strengths.
  • Know about employment opportunities for individuals with autism/IDD, including job coaching and micro-enterprise.
  • Understand the needs of families, and help them with their financial goals. What does the family need to do to be able to support the individual with autism/IDD? Does your state offer ABLE Accounts, for example?

Know where to find more resources and advice. For example, The Power of the Dream, a partner of The Financial Clinic, is always available to answer questions.

About The Power of the Dream

The Power of the Dream is part of our WorkBOOST National ecosystem. Based out of Raleigh, NC, its mission is to create jobs and advocate for adults with Autism or other Intellectual Development Disorders in the North Carolina Triangle