As anxieties mount over student loan debt and other financial pressures, more colleges are offering financial literacy classes to arm students with the knowledge they need.
The University of North Texas is taking this one step further. It has been awarded a grant to create a training video to teach financial educators on how to teach financial literacy to young adults with autism.
The school’s Student Money Management Center and the new Kristin Farmer Autism Center have joined forces on the project.
The two centers received a $2,500 grant from the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating, training and certifying financial counselors and educators.
The Mary O’Neill Mini-Grant from the association will help pay for script development, filming and post-production costs of a video that will be available for free on the websites of the money management and autism centers.
“Money management is a common denominator in everyone’s lives,” said Paul Goebel, senior director of the money management center. “With this video, financial literacy professionals from around the country can gain better insight into how to take the topic of financial literacy — as well as the core skills of budgeting — and present it to individuals with autism.”
UNT may be blazing a trail.
“To my knowledge, UNT is one of the first universities in the country to specifically address the financial literacy of students with special learning needs using video technology,” said Kevin Callahan, executive director of the autism center.
The project is needed.
“Current research indicates that many young men and women on the autism spectrum experience significant challenges with self-management, including navigating their finances successfully,” Callahan said.
The goal is to help autistic and other special-needs students attain more independence.
“It’s very important that they have a basic concept of finances,” said Phoenix Ma, project coordinator at the autism center. “They can benefit from budget planning and every single topic related to finances we want to teach them.”
The video is important because the population of autistic students on college campuses is increasing, Callahan said.
“There are certain populations that are often overlooked and those populations are often ones in which individuals have special needs,” Goebel said. “Are there ways you adapt curriculum to best address the needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorders? And the answer is yes.”
Hopefully the video will clear up misconceptions of how those with autism learn.
“Children or young adults with autism — they might not have eye contact with people,” Ma said. “Sometimes the young adult may be struggling in the lecture or workshop setting. People feel like, ‘You’re not listening to my lecture, you’re not respecting me.’ But that’s not the case. They’re just not making eye contact or they just don’t actively interact with other people.”
What’s more, “they may have difficulty processing the information in two hours,” Ma said.
“That might be too much for them to take,” she said.
The student-produced video, which is expected to be released in May, will be created with the aid of graduate student Eric Izuora, who helped draft the grant application.
UNT students will provide the on-camera and voiceover talent.
“With the help of the autism center, this grant will allow us to consider how we package our services in a way that makes sense not just to people with autism spectrum disorders at UNT, but people at other places of learning and higher education and in the workforce,” said Izuora, who’s working on a master’s degree in public administration.
A goal for all young people is to learn how to live independently, and that’s no different for autistic students.
But scam artists also zero in on the most vulnerable members of society, and the UNT video will enable financial educators to arm young autistic students with the knowledge to protect themselves from being ripped off.
That’s a worthy undertaking all the way around.
Follow Pamela Yip on Twitter at @pamelayip.