When the parents of a special-needs kid say ‘yes’ to Scouting, this happens…

Behold the power of “Yes.”

When Crystal Bueno and her husband first saw the go-kart their Tiger Cub sons were given at a council derby Saturday in Brooklyn, their first reaction was “No.”

“No way,” Crystal remembers thinking. “Marcus can’t do this. And Adam’s definitely not big enough or strong enough to push the kart.”

The reason for Crystal’s initial skepticism? Marcus, 7, is on the autism spectrum. And Adam was probably the smallest Tiger Cub out there.

But the Buenos let their sons try. That whole thing about it being better to try and fail than fail to try? That applies. And with Marcus steering and Adam providing the motor, the boys excelled.

It’s just more proof that Scouting is for all boys, even those like Marcus who might need special attention. What other youth program out there can say that?

The photo above speaks volumes, but read Crystal’s letter to see just how powerful this program has already been for two new Scouting parents: 

Hi Bryan,

I like your blog very much! My boys — Tiger Cubs — are new to Scouting this year, and are having the time of their lives.

My 7-yr old son Marcus, is on the autism spectrum. I thought a good topic for a future blog might be how packs/troops accommodate their programs for special-needs kids, to make the program welcoming for kids of all abilities. In our experience, our pack has been wonderful about welcoming special-needs boys, adapting the program as needed, and above all, constantly encouraging them to live up to the Cub Scout motto, “Do Your Best.”

The whole easy and respectful equality among the boys of our pack is set by our Cubmaster, Mr. Dono, and the other extraordinary leaders. And I think this attitude and approach to the Scouting program really is set from the top down.

As just one example, we took the boys to their first Cub Scout Go-Kart derby on Saturday at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. We had no idea what to expect, what we were in for. I know that if we had actually SEEN the kart ahead of time, or knew that the boys had to navigate an obstacle course while pushing this kart? My husband and I both agreed, we would have said “No way. Marcus can’t do this. And Adam’s definitely not big enough or strong enough to push the kart.”

But thankfully, we didn’t know what we were in for.

Our leaders were much more confident, and coached Marcus carefully about how to steer the kart. We stood to the side to watch others do it several times before it was our turn. The other boys were all going crazy, cheering and encouraging Adam — the smallest little Tiger Cub — to just push hard, even though the kart was very heavy for him. And for Marcus, the Cubmaster put a little piece of orange tape on the steering wheel (orange is Marcus’ favorite color!) so he had a visual guide to help him keep the wheel straight. Talk about making memories — my boys had the best. Day. EVER!!

My husband and I both felt like Marlin in Finding Nemo: “You think you can do these things, but you just CAN’T, Nemo!”

Well, our little Nemo proved us wrong, and we so proud!

A picture is worth a thousand words. This is Marcus steering the kart, and Adam pushing. The look on their face is absolute joy!!

Thank you,

Crystal Bueno

Pack 187, Brooklyn

Powerful, right? Stories like that remind us why we’re all here.

As for Crystal’s point about resources for special-needs Scouts, they’re out there.

The March 2013 ScoutCast, for example, has some great insight. This Scouting magazine What Would You Do? article about Asperger’s includes real-life solutions. Clarke Green’s blog has a great page with additional info. And don’t forget to Like the Autism and Scouting Facebook page, an unofficial resource for parents and leaders.

But we can always do more, so I’d encourage anyone to leave their comments below and offer additional tips or resources.


  1. What a great lesson for the other scouts and, probably more importantly, the leaders! Our Webelos had an opportunity to demonstrate “helpful”, “friendly”, “kind”, and “brave” at Webelos Woods last fall. The boys are pretty competitive, and they had already performed very well at two of the competitions on Saturday morning. In the 3rd event, they had to pitch a large (6-8 person) tent for time and accuracy. One of the boys in the den is autistic and is losing his sight due to a congenital condition. Those boys dropped their jobs and helped their friend get his assigned task done first, and then they went back to finish their work. They may not have been the fastest den in that event, but I’d say they won (and of course, every parent & leader watching was in tears).

    The take-away for me was trying to come up with some “games” where we could put the boys in situations where they have to help each other – both raising awareness that everyone isn’t the same and giving them the opportunity to be challenged to do something they would regularly excel at.

  2. Amen brother , I have two autistic kids in my Den and yes there are a challenge , but they have both surprised me . One has almost a photographic mind , so he memorizes every thing , he’s a cool kid . I was skeptical at first , but now we are fine .

  3. We have a Scout, Robert, in our Troop who is severely autistic. He camps with the Troop (in a tent with his father) but cooks with his patrol. Sometimes its only boiling water for hot chocolate, but he’s helping. Last December several of the patrols got together to do the swimming parts of swimming merit badge, and Robert was there. Except for using his clothes as a flotation device, he excelled at every other task. I don’t believe he even has his Scout badge yet, but he comes, participates, and has fun.

  4. I lead our Council’s Special Needs Advocay & Resource Group because I believe that all boys should be able to enjoy scouting. My son has Duchenne Muscular Dystophy (DMD). He uses a power wheelchair to get around & I am a HUGE proponent of boys with special needs in scouting. Many parents believe that if you’re not athletic, etc. you can’t join scouts. I’ve been spreading the word that scouts is for everyone. My son, Matthew, joined Cub Scouts when he was in 1st grade. Now, at age 12, he is an active Boy Scout. My son sleeps in a tent with the other boys. The older boys have learned how to lift him and get him into his chair. On camping trips there is a “duty roster” for items such as fire building, cooking, dishes, etc. We’ve added another line item –Matthew’s buddy.” A different boy is assigned for each meal to help him with his tray, etc. Either my husband or I are on each camping trip (for dressing and toileting duties) but we try to step back and let the boys do as much as they are comfortable doing to help Matthew. He is very independent and I credit that to scouting.

  5. One of my Wood Badge tickets was to hold a presentation on Scouting with Special Needs. As a matter of fact, the scout master who went with me to Wood Badge also had the same ticket. She and I held it roundtable style and invited a scout parent who has an autistic son and is in the process of earning her advanced degree in disabilities.

    There were about 12 people in attendance from parents to district commissioners, district executives and even council commissioners (one who happened to be on staff at our Wood Badge course.) The scout master is now the Trailblazer District Scouting with Special Needs Course Director and I am her co-director. We have also been challenged by the Dan Beard Council Commissioner who attended to bring this type of training to the council level for all leaders. We’re taking it one small step at a time.

    Our troop is homeschoolers and special needs boys. One thing I can tell you is the boys learn from each other.

  6. Bryan:

    As a 42 year veteran and former scoutmaster I identify with this story. I have my own to tell.

    And in answer to your question: There is NO other program available to youth today that can do more for ANY boy who cares to try, than the BSA. Period.

    Joseph DelPonte Chairman, Narragansett Council Merit Badge College Committee The College of Merit Badge Knowledge

  7. I worked with Special Needs children for my Eagle project in 1969. Started a Troop for my Junior and Senior year in HS and came back from college and started up the Troop again. That was in 1977 and now over 35 years later Troop 89 of Cumberland MD. is going strong. These scouts amaze me all the time. They work so hard on earning requirements. Never say never and are fearless. The Patrol Method is in place with the leaders as Patrol advisors. Many are getting old (no age limit for Scouts with Special Needs) but they still enjoy it. Only two Eagles in our history but about 5 in the works. That’s exciting!! Last weekend we camped on the deck of the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Va. Barring a little fear of heights we came out of the experience happy campers.
    Doug Schwab
    Troop 89
    Cumberland, MD.

  8. Both of my sons are extremely active in Scouts. Both of them hold leadership positions in their units and are so excited about all the opportunites Scouting affords. One is working on his Eagle rank in the troop and his Ranger award in the crew. The other is working on his Star rank and looking forward to October when he too can be a member of the crew. Both of them also have bipolar, are on the autism spectrum (formerly known as Asperger’s), have ADHD and some OCD (our younger son). Scouting has been one of their main means of socialization. They have learned so much, and I couldn’t be prouder of them, both as a mom of special needs boys and as the mom of two amazing Scouts who have bright futures ahead.
    Like Jeff above, both my husband (who is an Eagle and also has bipolar and Asperger’s) and I completed the diversity portion of our ticket teaching others about “invisible disabilities.” Tom worked with the youth, and I taught adults at a roundtable with a powerpoint that I created. I would highly suggest the book “Kids in the Syndrome Mix” by Dr. Martin Kutscher. As an educator, a Scouter and a mom, this is the best book that I have found for explaining so many different invisible disabilities in such an easy to understand way.

  9. While it is noble to bring scouting to boys with special needs……The average troop or pack simply does not have the resources to do so. Training is nonexistent, Volunteers are tough to come by…..and how many den leaders are going to sit thru another training course.

    Recent experiences with parents of potential Autistic scouts show they have the expectation that ALL OF US have the resources and training to deal with them. The deal breaker was when I told Mom and Dad one of them needed to come with him to every meeting and every event……

    Guess they were looking for a weekend off a month…….Never saw them again.

    • Bob, sorry to hear about your experiences with parents not chipping in, it’s a pattern regardless of of ability. The key to a well rounded kid IS parent participation, as you know we see it every day in Scouts. How many make it to Eagle without parental support? Sped kids need even more support just to participate let alone excel. I think it is fair and noble to expect the parents to be there. Training is a difficult one: you meet one autistic kid, you meet an autistic kid. No brush paints all. Autism covers a huge range of abilities, from gifted but awkward to non verbal and intellectually impaired. And yes, getting volunteers to take YP is hard enough. But I really don’t accept the average Troop and resources comment. There is no longer such thing as the average Troop, if indeed it existed at all. America is facing an epidemic of kids being diagnosed on the autistic spectrum: 1/88. Rates at our school for children on IEP run at 1/10. I also have time for the argument that many of our ADD kids are just being boys, and are a handful until properly diverted into something physical, though I know and respect many who would disagree.

      Just so you know where I am coming from, I have 3 kids, 2 sped, my eldest son is severe special needs. I was a Webelos leader and now an ASM.

      When struggling with a diagnosis parents turn to professionals who suggest every social development program they can think of in an attempt not just to actually help the child develop but to assist the parent in just ‘getting out there’. Professionals see the results with sped kids that committed Scouting families have within their equally committed communities. A child’s label tends to come at the lowest resolve of a parent, broken by the day to day struggle of coping with their child. They may have ‘tried’ softball ‘once’, till Johnny had a melt down putting on Suncream or the label in his shorts wouldn’t stop itching and the embarrassment made them flee. Scouting has the capacity to offer something to everyone, whether camping and cooking, a structured learning experience and expectations for the literal minded, concepts of civil responsibility or just interacting with other adults who are not immediate family. Programs can be modified, but you are right, not without the parents totally on board.

      Maybe the way to start within your Troop/Pack is to discuss this at Committee level, a be prepared moment, where you hash out guidelines for an amended program to be given to parents and what is required of them. Ask them what triggers Johnny’s melt downs, could be whistling, could be too many voices at a Pack meeting. Have a code word that lets Johnny remove himself to the bathroom or outside a classroom. Once expectations are laid out, including parent involvement, that can be handed out when someone enquires.

      As a pointer on facebook “Austim and scouting” page is really excellent, backed by autism speak, some nice printables. I personally will use these when teaching the disability awareness merit badge this summer in my Troop. Also pairing up new sped kids with Troop guides is a good use of a resource that is waiting to be tested.

  10. Great article. The joy of a parent when their child with special needs overcomes an obstacle through the scouting program is cannot be described in words. I’m my district’s special needs chair and my son is on the autism spectrum. The joy I felt when he successfully filled the SPL position, completed his Eagle Project, and earned his Eagle was so wonderful. Scouting helped in developing his social skills,, and gave him goals, and the opportunity to accomplish them. Autism & Scouting website & facebook page are awesome!!!! Some great resources include the Three Fires Council, St. Louis Council, & Denver Council. There are others, but these are the 3 main ones I use. Remember scouts with special needs can do the program, they just need understanding, and adult leadership willing to work with them.

  11. Hi, I’m a pround mother of boy scout with special need.in Puerto Rico, when look some activity that my child can participate without discrimination, I choosed a Boys Scout movement. The leaders received my child with enthusiam and respect and he felt comfortable. Now he like very much Boys Scout movement and he wanna be an eagle scout. My son is an example that if you can, you shoul do it. He is handicap and he improve his attitud since he stay in BSA.

  12. My son has a TBI that creates a number of challenges for him. He fell head over heels for scouting and can not get enough. I volunteered all through the cub program to help him and his new friends succeed. When he bridged to boy scouts he was bullied and even attacked by other scouts. The sm went out of his way to draw attention to his differences and put him on the spot. I tried to help him understand my son’s challenges, but it only made things worse. He had the nerve to say that not allowing my son to be successful would help motivate him to overcome his brain injury (not physically posible, according to the specialists). We were invited to another troop, but that sm blocked my son from all forms of advancement as well. He even refused to recognize merit badges earned at a BSA camp. Thankfully, we seem to have finally found a troop where bullying would never be tolerated and all the boys are given the same opportunities and support. My son has been allowed to blossom and really shine. There is another scout with fairly severe autism and one with severe adhd. Each boy is included and treated with respect. I’ve been so impressed with how the other scouts reach out to them to include them, but also give them space when they need it, without judgement.

  13. My son has Down syndrome he started as a Tiger and is now a Bear. I think what is really important is parent involvement. Each child is different so there are something’s they can do on their own and something they need help with. No one treats him any different and I wanted him to have the best scouting experience so I have always been his den leader as well as became our packs Cubmaster! Lol!! It makes my son happy that his parents are involved. But the key to a quality program is parent involvement!

  14. Thanks for this great article. Our son is cognitively disabled due to traumatic brain injury at birth, However, with some great cub and boy scout leaders and some very understanding & kind cubs & scouts he has made it from Tiger to Life Scout. We hope that, with support he will achieve Eagle rank with the help of some alternative merit badge work. Scouts has, for him, been a cornerstone of his life since he joined as a Tiger. He has matured in part due to his scouting experience and his peers have learned valuable lessons form him and helped him in ways we, as parents, could never hope. The most valuable lesson he has learned is probably independence. He has found the courage to swim, hike, cook, camp, cycle and do things he was absolutely terrified to consider before his scout buddies did them and insisted he join them, encouraging him all the way. His involvement has meant I have also become involved in both Pack (Committee Chair) and Troop (activities coordinator & merit badge counsellor). This allows me to be around but not his ‘hands-on’ guide. We can’t praise his troop and District enough for all his support and encouragement. Persistence and patience are the watchwords and you will learn as much from these challenged scouts as you will teach them.

Join the conversation