Pay Your Bill
What Can People with Autism do to Avoid Financial Manipulation? Here are 5 Tips from Autistic People

By Pam Dewey and Autism Advocate Ryan Lee • March 16, 2023

Ryan Lee has worked a variety of jobs, from security guard to selling frozen food, while moving back and forth across the country. He has encountered genuine and kind people, but he’s also met others who tried to take advantage of him. Ryan has autism, and like many other people with autism, he is very honest and assumes that when someone says something, they mean exactly what they say.

Author and autism advocate Yenn Purkis explains further, “There is an actual concrete reason that we tend to be taken advantage of, and it starts with the difference in communication between autistic people and neurotypical people. Autistic communication is generally on one level. We are honest, up front and do not often do things like manipulation and deceit. We generally do not lie, although many autistic people are capable of lying if they feel the need but usually it doesn’t come naturally.”

For Ryan, manipulation has taken different forms over the years. He was once paid minimum wage as a “part-time” staff when the hours were really full-time. He was placed in a problematic position when he was selling door-to-door and a supervisor got very aggressive with an elderly customer. And he’s seen corners cut on important security jobs; then he was encouraged to look the other way.

Another reason people with autism can be easier to manipulate is because they often fear losing friends. Yenn Purkis writes, “We often struggle to be accepted socially from a very early age. This can set us up to be strongly focused on pleasing others and gaining friends. That can work well up until the point we need to set a limit or boundary. When this occurs, I think many of us feel that our friend will disown us or not like us anymore.” Rather than calling out problematic or illegal behavior, an autistic person may keep quiet to preserve the relationship. People aware of these insecurities can take advantage of the situation.

This can lead to hypervigilance and a complete lack of trust in others, but those options aren’t particularly good for a person’s mental health. Here are 5 tips to help people avoid financial manipulation. 

Know your rights

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) stipulates that certain workers can legally be paid below minimum wage. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, In addition to student learners, people who can be paid below minimum wage include “individuals whose earning or productive capacities are impaired by a physical or mental disability, including those related to age or injury, for the work to be performed. Employment at less than the minimum wage is authorized to prevent curtailment of opportunities for employment.” In other words, this was included in the FLSA to encourage employers to hire people with disabilities, which can include people with autism. However, it only applies if the person’s work is affected directly by their disability. The U.S. Department of Labor also states, “Section 14(c) does not apply unless the disability actually impairs the worker's earning or productive capacity for the work being performed. The fact that a worker may have a disability is not in and of itself sufficient to warrant the payment of subminimum wages.” So, if a person in a wheelchair works as a writer, this isn’t a reason to pay them below minimum wage, since it wouldn’t impair their productive capacity or earnings.

Learn to be assertive

People with autism may not be very assertive. This may be a natural part of their personality or because they’re used to deferring to others in mental health settings, residential living or other healthcare settings. The good news is that people can learn to be more assertive. You can read books about assertiveness or look for assertiveness training courses. Yenn Purkis also shares some things that helped them become more assertive. They write, “Consciously working on building your self-worth is a good first step. There are things you can do to build your self-worth, including being aware of how you describe and talk about yourself to others. If there are lots of blaming words and thoughts, try and consciously change how you view and talk about yourself.” After you’re more comfortable with yourself, you’ll become more comfortable raising your voice and standing up for yourself.

Yenn Purkis also states that learning to be assertive is “an incremental process. I didn’t start by standing up to a bully, I started by standing up to tradespeople and telemarketers. Each time I did this, I grew in confidence, and my resolve to be assertive in the future grew too.”

If it feels wrong, say no

Even if a person is your manager, boss or some other authority figure, you can say no, if they ask you to do something that seems unethical, uncomfortable or illegal. They may be your manager, but they don’t control you. They may also use misleading language to talk you into something that doesn’t feel right.

“You don’t have to do the things people tell you to do,” says Ryan. “I’ve learned to say no.”

If you know what they’re suggesting is illegal or against the rules at your workplace, report them to Human Resources or other designated channels for workplace misconduct.

A nice suit doesn’t equal trustworthiness

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Clothes make the man.” Dressing nicely shows a person made an effort to look nice. But clothing also functions as a mask or shield. In other words, a person might wear a nice outfit to overcome feelings of inadequacy. People may also dress nicely to hide their fear, their sweaty palms and, in some instances, their dishonesty. Ryan says his supervisor on the door-to-door salesmen job was “well-presented,” but he realized later that was part of his cover for his predatory and aggressive behavior.

Reflect and learn from past experiences

Just as Ryan has learned that a nicely dressed person isn’t necessarily trustworthy, you can also learn from negative experiences. Yenn Purkis suggests, “Reflect on where exploitation has happened to you or people you know. Think about what would have helped in the past situation. Keep a record of this, and if a similar situation rises, use the strategies you have identified.” Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how we learn and move forward. So if you’ve been exploited, don’t put yourself down. Rather, think about what you could have done to handle the situation differently. Then if you encounter a similar situation, you’ll know how to respond and protect yourself.