A better financial future for autistic individuals

Financial wellbeing is important to everyone as it contributes to overall wellbeing and happiness.

When it comes to money, most people acquire skills as they go through life and to a great extent this relies on interacting with people.

Recent research from RMIT University and the Cooperative Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC) on the ‘Financial Wellbeing of Autistic Individuals’, shows a different experience for people with autism. This research explored the financial behaviours, attitudes and experiences of autistic individuals and identified how financial education can support their strengths and abilities to enhance their overall financial wellbeing.

Opportunity to learn

The autistic community is as diverse as any group, however at school they may not gain the same learning through social experience as other kids and are often left to rely on their parents to fill the role of money manager. This could include their parents opening their bank account or managing their expenses.

“There are many [individuals] who have missed out on experiences that have anything to do with money”, says Roslyn Russell, a Professor at RMIT University, who co-authored the research.

Improving autistic individuals financial wellbeing is paramount given research demonstrates that autistic individuals are more likely to experience financial challenges, have limited opportunity to manage their financial situations, and have lower levels of education and employment.

Close up of a hand holding several $50 notes

Financial wellbeing and independence a common desire

When asked what financial wellbeing meant to them, many participants in the research viewed financial wellbeing as “having an income…being free of financial stress…being comfortable…having extra money to spend…and having financial independence.”

Several participants also acknowledged that managing money effectively plays an important role in achieving financial independence, while another recognised that she can achieve independence through her practical thinking and willingness to learn.

I’m a very practical thinker. I want to learn…I want to be as independent as possible, so I want to learn all that stuff and understand it.

Most interested in income tax, decision making and understanding debt

Using topics from ANZ’s MoneyMinded financial education program, the research explored what financial topics individuals were most interested learning and understanding.

Income tax, financial decision making and understanding debt were the most common responses, with understanding scams, mobile phone plans, bank accounts, superannuation, investing and planning for the future also highly sought-after topics of interest.

Table 3 – Autistic individual's ranking of interest in financial topics
Most commonly rated Topic
Band 1 Understanding income tax
How to make financial decisions
Understanding debt
Band 2 How to avoid money scams
Mobile phone plans
How to choose a bank account
How to plan for the future
Know my rights when I buy things
How to make an investment
Understanding superannuation
Band 3 Renting or buying a home
Centrelink and benefits
NDIS and plan budget
Credit cards
Using banking technology
How to save
Doing a budget
Buying a car
How to plan my spending
How to prioritise my spending
Band 4 Pay day and online loans
Saving up for something special
How to set money goals

Building capability through financial education

Autistic individuals also shared how they’d like to learn these new skills. There was a range of suggestions, but the majority prefer to learn by doing, rather than by reading. There was also a desire to have a ‘sounding board’, a person to check in with to ensure they were on the right track. Another common recommendation was for a user-friendly workbook or app that meets the needs of young individuals.

I prefer doing something. I’m not really good when you give me a book and I have to read it. That’s where I fail.

Common recommendations for building financial capabilities through financial education were:

  • Promote the importance of financial education
  • Teach financial education to children earlier
  • Financial education should be conducted by independent organisations
  • Use a variety of teaching formats to aid people’s diverse learning styles
  • Use real-life, relevant scenarios they would understand
  • Give people an opportunity to learn step-by-step with clear instructions
  • Regular group engagement and discussions
Close up of person putting their card in an ATM

What’s next for autistic individuals financial wellbeing?

The team at RMIT University and Autism CRC are in the process of completing further research, which promotes financial education and resilience in adults on the autism spectrum.

Financial wellbeing is important to everyone as it contributes to overall wellbeing and happiness. Autistic individuals possess many strengths that are advantageous to managing money and with appropriate education and support, these strengths can be capitalised to improve the financial capability and wellbeing of autistic people.

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