Last year a new family moved into our neighborhood. Since I had served on our local school board for more than a decade, Solita, the mother, asked me about services for her son with autism. I told her what I knew and then suggested her son might enjoy a local Scout troop that knows how to work with autistic Scouts. (I wrote about that troop separately at The Boy Scout: DisABILIBY Scouting.)
Recently at church I was asked to help in a children’s Sunday class with an autistic boy. The teacher taught the lesson and I kept this handsome, active little 5 year old boy occupied—well at least part of the time. I left there wondering how the parents can do that all day long. Then last week, my wife came home to tell me about the autistic boy in her kindergarten classroom having a second “melt down” in a week. She loves this kid and really wants him to feel safe and loved.
With all this going on I had to explore what BSA is doing to help families with their autistic Scouts. The first thing I found was Essential Resources for Autism and Scouting at Scouting.org. That was just the beginning. I have found so much more, which I’ll share later in the article, but first, as it turns out, Scouting has much to offer a child with autism.
Just think about the other extracurricular options for children, team sports in particular. Most are not well suited for a child with autism due to the social skills, communication, or coordination required. Scouting helps overcome these barriers with its varied approach. This is explained well in the College of Commissioner Science’s “Special Needs Scouting—Autism Spectrum” lesson plan, which includes the “Updated Autism Spectrum section of Manual” (No. 34059) with these words:
“Scouting places its members in a wide variety of social situations with a mixture of people and tasks. This gives the Scout with autism a chance to learn acceptable behaviors. Children with autism and other disabilities benefit from the self-paced nature of the Scouting advancement system. It allows them to participate and socialize with other Scouts of different skill levels, especially in teaching situations. Scouts with autism can learn about others’ feelings while performing service hours in community activities. Participating in service projects focuses on learning to be a good citizen which builds a sense of belonging to a larger community.
“Scouting can help create a safe community for youth with autism. Many children with disabilities have no friends outside of their immediate family and their paid caregivers. Scouting offers a chance for them to make genuine friends. These friendships can carry over to school and other activities beyond their Scouting unit.
“The Scouting program offers lots of opportunities to strengthen practical skills. For example, Scouts with autism can improve their public speaking skills while giving troop presentations on skills or merit badge topics. They can develop motor skills while learning to tie knots or working on tent set up for camping.
“Leadership positions in a troop are another excellent way for Scouts with autism to learn tolerance and a flexibility of thinking. They come to realize that leading requires motivating others, which helps them understand that multiple viewpoints are valid and should be respected. Troop Leadership Training can be a great way for Scouts with autism to become more aware of what is normal behavior in social interactions.
“Scouts with autism can make dedicated Troop Historians, Scribes and Quartermasters since they love to draw up lists and enjoy detailed planning activities. Sometimes they can be a bit bossy, but what troop wouldn’t benefit from a well-trained Patrol Leader at a Camporee? They can keep everyone on schedule as long as they have a copy to hold or refer to on a bulletin board.
“Scouts with autism also make wonderful Den Chiefs or Troop Guides for new Scout Patrols. If the Scoutmaster asks the Scout to become an expert in teaching younger Scouts how the program runs, the Scout with autism has a chance to show off his knowledge and encourage younger boys. This is a great way to increase self esteem for individuals who may ordinarily be socially shy and awkward.
“According to an article written by Temple Grandin, a university professor with autism, youth with autism need mentors to help them learn social skills. They need a chance to explore different areas of interest. These areas of interest may lead them to a career. Scouting offers such experiences. Many Scouts have explored interests which have later turned into careers or lifelong hobbies. Scouting can provide the mentorship needed for youth with autism to grow into successful adults.”
Virtually every Scouting unit at one time or another will have the opportunity to serve youth with special needs. In fact, in a recent study in the Midwest reported by theAbilities Digest, it was found that 15 percent of BSA’s membership has some sort of disability requiring special attention or consideration from leaders.
The Spring 2015 issue of Abilities Digest states that “one in every 42 boys has Autism, a developmental disability…thus, an ever increasing number of units have at least one Scout on the Autism spectrum.” In our Council that means, that nearly one in every four troops needs access to essential resources like these:
Autism and Scouting (This is the only national organization that offers Autism and Asperger communities Scouting programs designed to help leaders support youth and adults. The organization’s autism and Scouting website is: www.AutismandScouting.org).
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Special Needs Scouting—Autism Spectrum
- Including Scouts With Disabilities, (PowerPoint presentation)
BSA’s Disabilities Awareness website also includes these general topics:
- Scouting for Youth With Disabilities Manual
- Guide to Working With Scouts With Special Needs and DisABILITIES
- Scouting With Special Needs and Disabilities (information sheet)
- Bookshare in Scouting (flier)
- Guide to Advancement 2013, No. 33088 (See Section 10.0.0.0
- Individual Scout Advancement Plan, No. 512-936
- Request for Registration Beyond the Age of Eligibility, No. 512-935
- Application for Alternative Eagle Scout Rank Merit Badges, No. 512-730
In addition, there are other helpful resources are available to share with Scouting families in your units. These include:
- Autism and Scouting leadership training kit – free 93-page kit being used worldwide
- Autism and Scouting Facebook
- Autism and Scouting Radio and Podcasts
- Autism and Scouting Blog
- Abilities Digest—Anyone wishing to subscribe should send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org. Place “Subscribe” in the subject line, and include your name and council in the body of the message.
Now that we’ve done the work to gather all these resources for you, what will you do with them?
(To read about one Scouter’s choice, click: The Boy Scout: DisABILITY Scouting)