First Check

June 3, 2014
Last Friday, Robert got his first check. He was waving a white envelope when I came to pick him up. He was happy and so was I. Except, I didn’t know what to do with this check. First, I wanted to go straight to the bank and encourage Robert to deposit his first earned money in his checking account. But then, I wanted to take a picture of the check and… frame it. When we got home, I noticed that Robert’s last name was misspelled as one additional letter popped in the middle, so I decided to call the Employment Agency first to get advice on how to proceed.
Meantime, I thought about the check some more and came to the conclusion that the best way to proceed would be to go to the bank and cash the check. This way Robert would learn what earning money really means.
Robert has had a checking account for six years now. He wrote, at least, 30 checks during that time. He paid for his medical appointments and for his ski lessons. But although he wrote dates, proper amounts in digits and letters, and faithfully copied the names of the institutions, I am not sure if he got a clear idea of what all of that meant.
Moreover, in retrospect, I realized that my approach to teaching Robert banking was full of holes and resulted in Robert not understanding the values of the money. On paper, he could do most of the math related to withdrawing or depositing cash and checks. That knowledge, however, didn’t carry over to a real life.
I didn’t notice it, because I “cleverly” gave Robert an ATM card he was using to pay for some of his small purchases. I was proud when he kept sweeping his card in Subway or McDonald’s restaurants or when he paid for his take out from Outback Steakhouse always adding a tip to the bill.

Almost a year ago, as Robert tried to pay $3.50 for frozen lemonade, I noticed that he didn’t know how much money he should take from his wallet. One dollar, in his opinion, should suffice. My response to that was to do more practice at home of rounding to the next dollar. But despite our frequent visits to the grocery store I have never practiced with Robert buying things with cash. He always paid with his debit card.
The last Friday, Robert again wanted to pay one dollar for his lunch. He had twelve dollars in his wallet, but he took out one dollar and expected that it would cover the price.
The previous week, he only had one paper bill and it happened to be a ten-dollar one. So he just took it out and paid for his lunch. This time he had three paper bills in his wallet – two one dollar worth and one for ten dollars. He took one of them and was sure it should suffice.
His job coach thought that Robert’s reluctance to hand an appropriate amount of money was caused by his distrust of her. That was not the case. It was the result of Robert still not grasping the connection between numbers on the bills and their purchasing powers. He doesn’t grasp that connection, because I have never given him a chance to experience it first hand.
It is time to fix that. That is why we will cash the check and make a few trips to different stores and pay with cash.

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