For Autistics Tax Season Is Especially Taxing
Guest Post by Douglas Perry
January 26, 2012
(Editor’s NOTE: It’s that time of the year again and filing your taxes this year promises to be even more confusing than before! For that reason, we felt that this post should be published again.)
For most neurotypicals, tax time is a huge hassle and short-term drain on our finances. What’s not appreciated is how overwhelming it is to have an autism spectrum disorder and negotiate the tax-filing process. Adults on the spectrum vary in tax-filing complexities. Some simply fill out the 1040-EZ form and e-File it. But adult autistics may also own homes, invest their savings, freelance, incur medical expenses, or engage in activities where taking the standard deduction means paying more than their fair share of taxes. When you add the executive functioning issues (planning and organizing) that come with being on the spectrum, doing your taxes becomes more stressful and overwhelming.
Taxes are hard. They get harder and more complex as you get older or increase your net worth. Eight years ago I was a broke Aspergerian who could use TurboTax to complete and e-File my 1040-EZ. Now I have a bump-up in net worth but tax time is a huge time suck. I still rent. I imagine owning a house is going to add four more hours to my tax preparation. I’m still in the weeds and have 12 months of medical receipts to sort through.
Just some friendly advice: Don’t take up stock trading, inherit a parent’s IRA, collect unemployment insurance, and convert your 401k to a Roth in the same tax year.
I suspect that I’ll have to raid my emergency fund again like last year to cover my state and federal income taxes. Of course investing is prudent and necessary, just don’t pull a tax planning FAIL like I did in 2011. I got the investing/stock trading bug and it hit hard. Like many pursuits an Aspergerian gets involved with, it became a preservation and I overdid it. Hopefully my losses as a result of learning how to invest will take the sting out of my tax bill. From the looks of things, I’ll be reversing my losses in 2012.
I’m lucky to have the executive functioning skills that I have. But I have to pace myself or I’ll be on the express lane to South Meltdownville.
I’m having a CPA do my taxes due to complexities like stock investing, retirement investing, income from an inheritance, and deducting home office expenses. The accountant has it easy. I still have several folders of receipts to sift through and organize. Last year it took two days to get everything together for the accountant. I hope to get my folder sent to the CPA early this year. Last year was filled with serial epic powder days and my 2010 taxes took a back seat to skiing.
Even with the level of executive functioning skills I posses, I’m still quite overwhelmed. I can only imagine what it is like for someone on the spectrum with more pervasive executive functioning and underdeveloped coping skills. Add on math dyslexia and other non-verbal learning disorders and you have a recipe for potential meltdown.
Since persons on the spectrum may be unemployed or underemployed, their incomes may not allow them to pay an accountant $300 an hour to figure out our complicated tax code, find more legitimate deductions so that you don’t have to settle for the standard deduction, complete the 1040 forms, and file the return. If you don’t have health insurance, you paid your medical expenses out-of-pocket. At the risk of getting political, a simpler tax code would greatly help our nation. But a simpler tax code would be a bane to adults with autism or Asperger’s.
Yes taxes and the business of completing the return for neurotypicals is a pain the ass. For autistics, it can be freak-out: lost W2s, lost receipts, time management issues, math anxiety, and frustration-management issues. For those on the spectrum that are chronically underemployed or collecting unemployment there is the sudden impact of “OMFG, I owe $400 to the IRS! I’m broke and can’t pay it!!11!” if taxes were not taken out or not properly accounted for.
Of course there’s help in the form of tax professionals. But that requires social interaction. For some that introduces a whole other set of issues. If you’re a tax professional and your client has autism or Asperger’s, be extra patient and empathetic. We get that tax season is like a three-month long production data center outage for IT professionals. Of all your clients, we need your help the most. If you’re able to, offer a sliding scale fee or a hardship discount to clients on the spectrum whom are struggling financially. Then offer in a gentle, non-judgmental way advice on helping themselves get on a path to positive net worth.
We Aspergerians will get through it with either professional help from a CPA, extra appointments to the therapist, or taking the damn standard deduction and embracing the suck.