Money management can be tough for anyone. And one-size-fits-all financial advice can leave neurodiverse (also called neurodivergent) people who are struggling with their finances feeling stigmatized, or at a loss for how to control their finances.
But financial wellness is possible, by leaning on resources that target the neurodiverse community and making strategic use of financial tools.
What is neurodiversity?
Simply put, “neurodivergence describes how our brains work,” said Maria Davis-Pierre, a licensed mental health counselor and CEO/founder of Autism in Black. Davis-Pierre is neurodiverse; she is autistic and has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The brains of neurodiverse people work in unique ways that differ from the average or “neurotypical” person. According to the Cleveland Clinic, neurodiverse conditions include: autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, social anxiety, bipolar disorder and more.
Neurodiversity isn’t uncommon. According to the National Cancer Institute, it’s estimated that 15% to 20% of the world’s population is neurodiverse. Organizations may use varying definitions for neurodiversity, but that estimate is commonly cited.
How neurodiversity affects your finances
The neurodiverse community has a wide variety of needs and strengths, and that’s also true when it comes to money management. And even neurotypical people struggle with their finances. Getting support may help you better navigate finances in ways tailored to your specific needs.
“Most people tend to have a lack of understanding when it comes to their finances,” certified financial planner Elizabeth Yoder said. She is director of financial planning at Planning Across the Spectrum, which provides financial services to neurodiverse folks and people with disabilities.
“I find that neurodiverse people tend to have similar difficulties to everybody else, but in different ways,” she said. “For example, some neurodiverse people may have trouble with ‘future thinking,’ trouble thinking about why they should be putting money in savings and how.”
Some additional financial challenges might include:
- Having trouble remembering to pay your bills on time.
- Spending impulsively.
- Procrastinating when it comes to non-preferred financial tasks, like budgeting.
- Having trouble understanding complex financial planning.
Job security can also be at stake. “Typical work environments are not accommodating to people with ADHD or autism, and without accommodations, it’s hard to be successful,” Davis-Pierre said.
She notes that some neurodiverse people may need to take a lot of time off from work, especially if they have other disabilities, which affects their ability to earn a steady income.
And the high cost of health care can also limit financial well-being. “I spend almost $2,000 a month on ADHD medication, with insurance,” Davis-Pierre said. “I have financial privilege — my husband is a licensed physician and I’m a licensed clinician, but it’s still a lot of money, so imagine what it’s like for people who truly can’t afford it.”
An inability to afford care or medication may affect people’s ability to be productive at work — and make money.
How can you improve your relationship with money?
When you’re neurodiverse, community can be a big resource for getting your finances in order. You don’t have to tackle financial wellness alone, and opening up a discussion may provide reassurance about where you stand.
“People who are neurodiverse sometimes think that they are worse off than they actually are,” Yoder said. She notes that often her neurodiverse clients are more on top of things than they give themselves credit for and that improvements are often made once they feel empowered to ask for help.
Here are some additional strategies to help you improve your finances.
Use technology to make things easier
If you struggle with forgetfulness, procrastination or are generally overwhelmed by staying on top of your bills, automating bill payments can help, provided uneven cash flow doesn’t put you in danger of overdrafts.
If it’s hard for you to have a clear picture of all of your savings goals within one account, consider categorizing them. “Some banks allow you to create savings buckets without opening new accounts,” Yoder said. That way you don’t have to try and wrangle multiple accounts and can instead create categories like “travel” or “emergency fund” within one account.
“Make sure that things are easier for you, consolidate accounts where possible, consolidate multiple 401(k)s and get everything in one place,“ she said.
Don’t force yourself to use tools that don’t resonate with you
Not every financial tool or piece of advice will work for everyone. “If a certain financial tool doesn’t work for you, move on from it,” Yoder said.
Acknowledging that something doesn’t work for you can be an important step in taking charge of your finances.
Ask for accommodations
“We are set up in a world where adults get shamed for needing accommodations, so be honest with yourself and understand the accommodations that you need to succeed,” Davis-Pierre said.
For example, at work, you might ask to bring in your own lamp if the office lighting triggers sensory issues or ask for short breaks throughout the day in order to better focus.
In everyday life, asking for accommodations might look like getting someone to write out instructions for something like filing taxes in a way that makes the process easier for you.
Lean on resources that support the neurodiverse community. Try searching for community-support groups for neurodiverse individuals in your area.
Support can also come from working with financial organizations that center neurodiverse people, like Planning Across the Spectrum, or with a financial therapist.
Additional resources ranging from job help to government assistance and general information on neurodiversity, include:
- Neurodiversity Employment Network.
- Neurodiversity Career Connector.
- Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion.
- Government Benefits.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Different Brains.
- The Color of Autism Foundation.
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Tiffany Curtis writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected].
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