The Boy Scouts of America has a proud history of supporting members with physical, mental and emotional disabilities.
Scouts with autism are no exception. They’re thriving in packs, troops, teams, posts, ships and crews from coast to coast.
It’s Autism Awareness Month, so I wanted to direct you toward six resources for working with Scouts with autism. Autism affects one in 68 children and one in 42 boys, so it’s likely you’ll encounter a young person with autism during your Scouting career. Best to be prepared.
No one approach works with every Scout with autism because it manifests itself in a number of ways — hence the second word in the term “autism spectrum disorder.” But there is advice that’s proven to work, and you’ll find it in the resources below.
1. Scouting magazine: “Boys With Autism Can Thrive in Scouting — With Help”
Though our society’s understanding of autism is constantly evolving, this 10-year-old Scouting magazine piece about helping Scouts with autism thrive holds up surprisingly well.
Here are two excerpts that may sound familiar to parents of Scouts with autism.
On a recent pack service project of cleaning a nature trail, C. J. became paralyzed with fear at the prospect of crossing a boardwalk over wetlands. The Cubmaster was patient, showing C. J. that the boardwalk was safe, but reassuring him that he didn’t have to cross if he didn’t want to. He finally crossed, and ended up having a great time removing leaves from the boardwalk.
Through Cub Scouting, C. J. made strides his mother never thought possible. “He made friends for the first time in his life,” she said.
Scouting has helped Joe with his organizational skills, an area of difficulty for many children with autism.
He has also learned how to be more independent in Boy Scouts. “Camping is a massive undertaking with lots of worries, but it also teaches him steps to independence—going shopping, following a list, getting ready for a trip,” said his mom.
While Wallan attends every Scout function with her son, she gives a lot of credit to the adult leaders for their encouragement and understanding. In particular, they have worked with the boys in the troop to encourage them to accept Joe.
2. Scouting magazine: “Ideas for encouraging the success of Scouts with autism”
A Scout mom seeking advice about a Scout with Asperger’s in her troop received several helpful responses from the Scouting community.
The best responses were printed in this Scouting magazine story. Here’s one.
THREE SIMPLE SECRETS
I have Asperger’s syndrome. Three things proved helpful to me: adult leaders who were patient with me, adult leaders who explained directions carefully, and adult leaders who had a genuine interest in me as a person.
Baton Rouge, La.
3. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: “Missing Children With Autism”
Nearly half of children with autism will wander from safe places, according to some eye-opening findings from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, a BSA partner in keeping young people safe.
Visit this site to learn about this danger and the right way to respond when a Scout with autism goes missing.
4. BSA: Guide to Working With Scouts With Special Needs and DisABILITIES
This 12-page PDF (No. 510-071) includes resources for supporting Scouts with special needs. The guidelines offer tips for leaders but come with this caveat: “Each Scout will be different, so no single plan will work for every Scout.”
Here are the BSA’s tips for working with Scouts with autism:
- Provide consistent, predictable structure. Be patient. Allow extra time for activities.
- Provide a visual schedule using words and pictures. All Scouts will find this useful. Don’t put times in the schedule because a Scout with autism may expect you to follow it to the minute!
- Let the Scout know about transitions early by saying, “In five minutes we’ll be ending this activity and starting another.”
- Give the Scout information about new activities ahead of time.
- Break up tasks into smaller steps.
- Alert the Scout’s parents if there is going to be an activity that may cause sensory difficulties for their son. Consider moving noisy activities outside where the noise can dissipate. If the Scout has issues with food taste and texture, carefully plan the menus around these issues so the Scout can eat the same things as other members of the unit as much as possible.
Find even more great resources at this link.
5. Bryan on Scouting: Tuesday Talkback
In 2014, we made autism the subject of a Tuesday Talkback, and the post has generated more than 100 comments.
Click here and scroll to the comments to read advice from your fellow Scout leaders, like this great post from Terri:
As the mom of a son on the Autism Spectrum, I think it really helps to educate the leaders about who my son is. I’ve written a letter that gives a snapshot of him, what is likely to frustrate him etc. I also explain how to approach difficult topics or changes in schedule. I also encourage parents to find a Troop that is a good fit, it may take a couple of tries to find one that is willing and able to work with the challenges that ASD brings to our boys lives, but it is worth it. Honestly, Scouts is the best thing to happen to my son! He has grown and matured in ways that are amazing. He’s become much more independent, even going to Philmont. He is currently working on his Eagle rank, with no accommodations! I praise God for the gift of Scouting in our lives.
6. U.K. Scout Association: “Autism-Friendly Scouting”
Our friends across the pond offer these 10 tips for supporting young people on the autism spectrum. Here’s No. 6.
6. Prepare for changes or new situations
Change and new situations can cause a lot of anxiety for a young person with autism. Help them be prepared by providing information in advance. A great example is providing a schedule and some photos ahead of a camp. For some, moving between activities may be very stressful, and using a countdown or a sand timer can really help.
Autism fleur-de-lis via Dave Lyon. Used with permission.