By: Catherine H. Knott, Ph.D.
My sons used to visit me at work in an international program at a university. There, they were sure to meet international students who might have some 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, and sometimes 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 a real feel for history, inspiring learning with concrete rewards.
Collecting is an intensive, concentrated activity, on the one hand, appealing to children with Asperger’s Syndrome who like to do 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 in a social sense, meeting people of all ages who share this interest so that one can trade, buy, and sell the coins or stamps. Venues including clubs, coin shops, conventions, and hobby shops, which provide plenty of opportunities for socializing and discussion about 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 me a packet of stamps he didn’t need for my sons. They were delighted by the large variety and beautiful pictures on many of them. Later we met a post office employee who collected stamps, and she saved stamps for the boys, sending her extras to them by mail 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
But even without such sponsorship, it is as easy as checking your pocket change and the most recent letters you received in the mail to help your child start collecting. For instance, did you know that 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 on both hobbies. 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 – something most kids with Asperger’s can’t get enough of.
Parents and teachers can encourage stamp and coin collecting for children with Asperger’s as a way to follow interests they already have. For instance, a child with a passion for butterflies could collect stamps from around the world with images of butterflies on them. Many times famous figures are represented on paper money. Particular historical periods are usually represented in commemorative stamps and coins and paper money from many countries.
Even more specific interests, such as bridges or trains, can also be found represented on stamps. Many psychologists and teachers now recommend encouraging a child with Asperger’s to follow their passions; coin and stamp collecting offer exciting and rewarding new outlets.
With supervision, the Internet can be an excellent source of information, and also, for older children and teens, a place to buy or sell coins and stamps. Even following the ups and downs of foreign currencies in the market can be fascinating and offers insights into history and contemporary politics. Once older children and teenagers enter the world of buying and selling, and create a serious collection, a whole new world opens up before them – that of investing, as well as collecting for pleasure.
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 Asperger’s 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.