By: Catherine H. Knott, Ph.D.
My sons used to visit me at work in an international program at a university. While there, they had the opportunity to meet international students who might have interesting coins and stamps from their countries. Even my shyer son learned to banish his reserve so that he could hold conversations with these students. Sometimes he would be rewarded with the gift of a unique coin or stamp.
Educational and Social Opportunities
Coin and stamp collecting are intrinsically educational. Exploring the cultural history and story behind each new acquisition can provide an insight and feel for history, inspiring learning with concrete rewards.
Collecting is an intensive, concentrated activity, on the one hand, appealing to children with autism who like to research and amass large amounts of information about a particular topic. On the other hand, one cannot be a coin or stamp collector without reaching out to others and meeting people of all ages who share this interest. These social interactions allow one to trade, buy, and sell coins or stamps.
Venues including clubs, coin shops, conventions, and hobby shops provide plenty of opportunities for socializing and discussing a favorite topic. Some of the best coin dealers are also great talkers and story-tellers. The coins give them an opportunity to share their craft.
A Family Treasure Hunt
Our family got a start in coin-collecting with a small box full of coins my sons inherited from their grandfather. Most of these were older American coins he had exchanged for his own newer coins at the cash registers when he worked in his father’s grocery store. Many American coin denominations have certain years when a misprint or other irregularity created rare versions that are now quite valuable. Other coins are simply interesting, or less common, and have added value over time, such as the Buffalo nickel. Just looking for such coins can give the feeling of a treasure hunt.
Likewise, stamp collecting can be serious business. I once sat next to a stamp collector on a flight from London. He was returning from Sotheby’s where he had been buying and selling stamps – his full-time occupation. He gave my sons a packet of stamps he didn’t need. They were delighted by the large variety and beautiful pictures on many of them. Later we met a post office employee who collected stamps. She saved stamps for the boys, sending her extras to them every few months. Another international traveler and office friend donated his childhood stamp collection to my sons when he learned of their interests.
A Simple Hobby with Ample Benefits
Even without such sponsorship, it is as easy as checking your pocket change and recent letters to help your child start collecting. For instance, did you know pennies dated before 1982 are worth twice their face value because they are nearly solid copper?
Many hobby shops have supplies for collecting stamps and coins, as well as books with information for beginners. Local libraries usually carry books on collecting, as well as the large coin reference books that list nearly every coin in the world and similar stamp reference books.
Best of all, taking the time to visit a coin shop for an hour or more can result in an intense discussion about a shared interest. This provides unique bonding experience for typically timid kids with autism.
Parents and teachers can encourage stamp and coin collecting for children with autism as a way to cultivate their interests. For instance, a child with a passion for butterflies could collect stamps from around the world with images of butterflies. Many times, famous figures are represented on paper money. Particular historical periods are usually represented in commemorative stamps, coins, and paper money from many countries. Specific interests, such as bridges or trains, can also be found on stamps.
Many psychologists and teachers now recommend encouraging a child with high-functioning autism to follow their passions. Coin and stamp collecting can offer exciting new outlets for their interests.
With supervision, older children and teens can use the Internet for information or to buy and sell collectables. Even following the ups and downs of foreign currencies in the market can be fascinating. Once older children and teenagers enter the world of buying, selling and creating a serious collection, a whole new world opens up before them – that of investing.
In these difficult economic times, a hobby such as coin or stamp collecting provides a wonderful way to enjoy a new activity and actually make money at it. Valuable coins can be kept just like a savings account that earns interest. Someday, your child with autism could pay for part of his college education with his stamp and coin collecting skills!
Clifford, Tim. 2009. American Coins and Bills. Vero Beach, Florida: Rourke Publishing LLC. One of an excellent series of books on the study of money by Tim Clifford. Suitable for elementary and middle-school students. Look for his other books.
Orr, Tamara. 2009. Coins and Other Currency: A Kid’s Guide to Coin Collecting. Hockessin, Delaware: Mitchell Lane Publishers. Excellent story-like introduction for young elementary school students.
Scheunemann, Pam. 2007. Cool Coins: Creating Fun and Fascinating Collections. Edina, Minnesota: ABDO Publishing Company. Another good introduction to coin collecting for elementary students.
Some references for middle school and high school students –
Datz, Stephen R. 2003. Stamp Collector’s Bible. New York: Random House.
Juell, Rodney A. and Steven J. Rod, Editors. 2006. Minneapolis, Minnesota: United States Stamp Society.