Parents of boy with autism were told to ‘try Scouting,’ and this happened

If you had to pick just one point of the Scout Law to describe Isaiah V., it would be “brave.” That same word applies to his mom and dad, too.

Isaiah was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at age 3.

“At first I thought, ‘what are we going to do?'” says Isaiah’s dad, Rolando. “Our world was turned upside down.”

As Isaiah got older, more symptoms began to show. He was shy and rarely spoke. He didn’t like playing with other kids and had a short temper. He never made eye contact.

Rolando and his wife, Lisa, talked to health professionals. They considered team sports.

Then a good friend shared what turned out to be a life-changing idea: “Try Scouting,” the friend said. “It is a fail-safe environment.”

They did. In November 2014, the family joined Pack 217 of the Central Florida Council, based in Orlando.

Rolando still remembers that first den meeting. It was a Thursday. The Scouts were making American flags for Veterans Day. Isaiah seemed to be having fun, but Rolando and Lisa weren’t sure.

The following Wednesday, Isaiah turned to his parents.

“Scouts tomorrow?” Isaiah said.

“And our jaws dropped!” Rolando says. “Ever since, Isaiah has been speaking more and more, making new friends and continues to strive in Scouting. He even earned his Supernova Award with his den.”

They’re a Scouting family now, the three of them. Lisa is a committee member, and Rolando is the committee chairman.

Whenever Isaiah’s behavior needs a little correcting, Mom or Dad will say, “Is this good Scout behavior?” Works every time.

Rolando’s favorite Scouting moment — so far — comes from a Webelos weekend at Camp La-No-Che.

“In the high-adventure part of the camp, they have this wall where the Scout learns how to rappel for the very first time,” Rolando says. “At first, we were skeptical because several Scouts refused to rappel due to their fear of heights. No, sir! Isaiah took that wall without hesitation and made it to the ground safely. Then he turns and said, ‘Can we do it again?’ As a tear fell from my face, I replied, ‘As many times as you want.'”

95 Comments

  1. Went to Philmont last summer for a 12 day Trek (80+ miles). A scout in my crew had Autism (high functioning). What a great experience (Not just for him but for my crew and myself).

  2. Individuals with autism will excel in scouting! So encourage them to join scouting for their benefit as well to the local unit, council and BSA.

    • Scouting provides an inclusive environment in which all have an opportunity to learn, have fun, and work on leadership skills. One cannot put a measure on the confidence gained from belonging to the BSA. The program, administered correctly, can transform a youth with low self-esteem to someone who cannot wait until the next adventure! – Justine Podolny

  3. My son is definitely benefitting from scouting. His troop understands that he has his limits, but he trusts his fellow troop members and tries things he might not have in another environment. His success was the monkey bridge. He didn’t know what to do, he was scared, I had backed away so he had to make his own decisions. His fellow scouts were patient while he tried and tried…. when he finally made it across he was overjoyed and wanted to do it again and again. The adults tending the station and I shared a glance of joy in that moment. Thank you for helping my son learn how to try new things! 🙂

  4. My high functioning autistic son joined scouts when he was 11. Since then, he has earned his Eagle, served on several NYLT courses and worked for the council’s camp for the past four years. I was so fortunate to have found scouting for him!! It opened doors that may never have opened without the skills and friends he gained from scouting.

  5. We had a youth in our council with high functioning autism. He’s an adult now and still lives for Scouting. If you go to World Jamboree or National Jamboree, Daniel is always there on staff. He’s been to Philmont, Boundary Waters and Sea Base numerous times. He’s a Vigil member of our lodge and still goes to every lodge event and staffs our winter camping program. He easily connects with youth and is always giving back. With 100 of him, you could accomplish anything!

    • I could have been clearer in my last comment, I meant one of him is awesome, but with 100 of him and you could set-up the entire summer camp in one weekend! Or build a new dining hall over the course of the summer!

  6. This example about that wonderful family is just one reason why Scouting is life-changing and very important! Experiences tend to bring out the best in all of us and Scouting is full of them! Those boys in Scouting and all the Scouting adults care and are some of the most one-minded and caring individuals around! Thank God I can count myself among such individuals!

  7. Joining Scouts was the best thing we have done for our high functioning autistic son. It hasn’t always been easy but his growth has been amazing. We have been active as well (his Dad is Scoutmaster and I am Advancement chair). My boy is now a Life Scout and beginning to work out his Eagle Scout Service Project Proposal.

    • Parents active in their Troop or Pack is the big reason why boys find success in Scouting. BSA doesn’t stand for baby sitters of America. Adult leaders also need training on how to work with boys with disabilities. Unfortunately there are leaders who refuse to work with these Scouts. I was told “these boys need their own Troop.” “They wouldn’t be allowed in Scouting when I was a Scout.” We had to leave that Troop. It’s a new world. Everyone can Contribute. My son is an Eagle Scout, he is 25, and I’m still paying forward as an Assistant Scout Master.

      • I have never understood that “don’t allow ‘them'” attitude. (Thankfully, I’ve never had to encounter it personally.) How does it even begin to encompass the Scout Oath or Law? “… Helpful, Courteous, Kind, …” smh

      • Our son is also autistic and Boy Scouts has been wonderful for him. He was a high achiever in Cub Scouts earning all of the belt loops. He is always working on merit badges and is now a Life Scout. He is excited to become an Eagle Scout. Unfortunately, we also had to leave the troop he started in because he was always singled out. It was hard to leave because so many of the ASM’s were wonderful with him. We were very fortunate to find another troop that is very good for our son. They were very inviting and made him feel so welcome.

  8. My son is on the Spectrum and Scouting has been amazing! He had the best Den Leader, made life-long friends and Eagled this past Fall! Thanks to all the Scouts and Scouters who saw past the exterior and looked into his heart. Proud Momma here

  9. As a good friend to Relando and Lisa I have seen 100% the change and Isaiah from the beginning of Scouts. I have also watched Relando grow up to be a real big scout. Lol.. I am very grateful for everything Lisa and Rolando and Isaiah has done for our pack. thank you for how much you’ve done for your boy and the other 60 boys we’ve had. the leaders of 217 look up to you and the boys look up to you and that’s what matters. Keep up the good work none of this is a waste of time none of it. I’m looking forward to having yall in Troop 217

  10. My son Tyler Cotterell has autism and got his eagle scout 4years ago. He was the first in troop 200. Wonderful leadership and troop mates! A learning experience for all. My fellow leaders became some of my best friends ever.

  11. As a parent, I completely agree with this decision. Our 2 sons with Autism have been in scouts since 1st grade. The oldest is now an Eagle Scout!👍

  12. What a great story. Well done & good luck to Isaiah & his family.

    My autistic son not only enjoyed himself but thrived in scouting. Moved up through the ranks, was elected into the Order of the Arrow by his scouting peers, and served as a Den Chief, Patrol Leader, & even Senior Patrol Leader.

    He competed in scout competitions such as the Klondike Derby, mentored the younger scouts as the older ones had mentored him, and earned his Eagle Scout rank.

    Scouting gave him the structure to help him persevere when things didn’t go well & the confidence to try again.

  13. As a parent of a son with high functioning autism who just earned Eagle this week, I cannot say enough good things about scouting and the doors that have been opened to my son through the wide array of opportunities that scouting affords! It’s not always easy though. Some troops are more open to “quirky youth” than others. The process for becoming a member of OA, for example, was particularly challenging, even outright hurtful with our original troop. We chose to move on to a troop that was smaller (less overwhelming numbers of people) and noted for their diversity. It was difficult to decide to make a switch to a different group, but it really worked out well for us. The point I’m wanting to make is that for families with a youth on the spectrum, be open to searching out the group that is really a good fit for your needs. Not all troop/crew etc. are right for everyone, but finding the group that IS the right fit is WONDERFUL!!!

  14. Not *every* Autistic kid likes Scouting. At age 51 I was diagnosed with high-functioning Autism – – specifically, what used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome – – so I assume I was a mildly autistic child as well, though a very high IQ seemingly compensated for a lot of it, and besides, they didn’t know what Autism *was*, when I was a child.

    Anyway, I hated Scouts. My Dad forced me into it around age 12, maybe 13 – – relatively late in life, since I had no interest in doing it *voluntarily*. Uniforms? Ugh. Ranks? Ugh. Regularly-scheduled weekly meetings? Ugh. Merit badges and skill awards? Ugh. Ranks and advancement? Ugh. Camping? Ugh. Weekend trips – – camping and otherwise – – that took me away from home a full 50 or 60 percent of the blessedly school-less weekend? Being in close proximity to many of the same kids who actively bullied me in school every weekday? Double ugh. Scout Camp? Ugh to the googleplex’th power. My Dad becoming an Assistant Scoutmaster, the better to scrutinize, micromanage, and criticize/berate me for every non-Scout-like attitude or behavior? Ugh to the infinitieth power!

    My main objective every Tuesday night was to distract my parents into *forgetting* it was troop-meeting night, and the happiest part of my week was when I was successful at it.

    I “survived” two weeks of Scout Camp, a couple of consecutive summers, by bringing a notebook and marking the entire time off into 15-minute increments, so that every time I came back to my tent I could cross out the elapsed blocks and *see* the two weeks wearing away. I have five fond memories of Scout Camp, of which only *one* of them really exemplifies what it’s supposed to be All About; the others have to do with violating the spirit of the thing, physically abandoning Troop activities on a couple of occasions, and being genuinely miserable on a few of our colder/rainier/snowier campouts. (My favorite memory of Scout Camp has to do with physically assaulting a bully – – who, incidentally, I don’t recall *ever even seeing ever again*, let alone being *bullied* by him. Remember, kids – – sometimes violence DOES solve problems!) I had two friends in the troop who hated the whole thing almost as much as I did, which was nice.

    I did as little as possible in the way of achievements and the earning of merit badges – – I never even earned my “Knife & Axe card,” normally the first thing a kid accomplishes at the start of his first visit to Scout Camp. In three or four years, I advanced only to… whatever was just below “Star,” a rank easily and regularly earned by kids three or four years younger than I was.

    The one time I was put into something resembling a “leadership” position – – I was supposed to teach about something, I think, or maybe lead a meeting – – they assigned as my subordinates three younger kids who were normally among my worst bullies; the thing was a disaster that ended in me punching one of them in the mouth (not that he didn’t deserve it. Felt good, man!). Never before that, nor ever again since, even as an adult, have I ever wanted, nor attempted, to sit in a position of authority or leadership; just Leave Me The Hell Alone. (Hell, I don’t even like *responsibility*. Remember the old Dilbert cartoon about The Forgotten Employee, who accidentally got dropped off the organization chart, didn’t have any official duties, just hid out in the basement of the office building, but still got paid? That would be *great!*) I can’t say Scouts was *responsible* for any of this, except insofar as it confirmed what I already knew – – but it sure didn’t *help* any.

    I was eternally grateful to the high school Youth Counselor who correctly saw me as *overwhelmed* by the combination of school, Scouting, other extracurricular activities, etc. and *made* my Dad let me out – – *before* I had to go to Philmont, God forbid.

    So, I suggest you check with your autistic child before forcing him into the Scouts, or at the very least *after* forcing him into the Scouts, to see if it’s really something he’s enjoying. Hopefully you’ll be able to tell and, if he isn’t, you’ll be willing to let him drop the damned thing without him having to involve external forces.

    • I’d be interested in how a person with such an aversion to scouting happened across this blog.

      I also believe you should take in a healthy dose of the Scout Oath and Law.

    • This is very sad. An extremely long post with much anger. I hope your adult life has taken a better and more positive turn. It’s all up to you now, to take responsibility for all that happens to you. Best wishes.

    • Sorry but you seem to suffer from some sort of toxic guilt. Hate your dad, hate your class mates, hate the scouts. WOW but you followed the program all these years later on this blog. By the way the rank you refer to FIRST CLASS at the time you were a scout as was I was the hardest rank to obtain besides Eagle . Not sure why you have such venom against the program but you remember an awful lot about it. Strange to say the least. I actually pity you.

    • Why do you read or do anything to do with Scouting then? Sorry it didn’t work for you. Hopefully you found some way to fit in and contribute to society.

    • Left to their own devices ANY teenage boy is resistant to Scouting. I am a parent of a child with an Autism diagnosis, and did have to give strong encouragement at times (both for my son and the Troop) But his stuck it out, worked hard and HE obtained the rank of Eagle, on his own within the standard requirements. Scouting is an experience that affects young men, I tell people I learned the best and the worst things in my time as a Scout. The self sufficiency gained through the Scouting experience is valuable to ANY young man and the skills acquired, even subtle ones, follow on through their lives. So bad experiences are part of the deal with Scouts, they should be tempered with good ones, but the positive influence on the youth is sorely needed today . . . I will not pass judgment on you as a person, but Scouting isn’t for everyone, but it does affect everyone that experiences it and I am sorry you are so embittered by your Scouting experience, but there is little you can do about it at 51 , , , except support the program for other young men . . .

    • You seem to have squandered the opportunity presented to you due to a bad attitude. I do not think it has anything to do with autism. You also seem to have an unteachable spirit as well. There is not too much anybody can do to remedy the situation.

    • Sad, and it’s still an open wound. I Joined Scouting on my own, I had to beg my mother, we couldn’t afford it. It was my only opportunity to get out of the city and camp outdoors. After a few years, I slowly lost interest and played baseball and basketball. Scouting and camping were not that important. I now camp, and use all of the skills that I learned in the Boy Scouts. I still have my original scout knife. My son with Aspergers is an Eagle, a Britherhood member of the OA, 54 merit badges. I’m back in Scouting as an assistant Scout Master, Woodbadge recipient SR677, a Vigil Member of the order of the arrow.
      I’m sorry that you didn’t have a choice. You didn’t have a reason to want to be a Boy Scout. Find a reason to contribute to your world and community. I hope you find something you like besides “nothing.”

    • Like people have said scouting is not for everyone but most do if they give it a chance. I do not know of a club, sports team, organization that 100% of the boys that join stays. I was scoutmaster for 38 years and I am still in scouting and have had a number of parents who stated to me their son had to choose between just an Example base ball or scouts. After they chose base ball or another sport the parents came beck and said all they learn was team work. Well the scouts do that and you do not have to sit on the bench. Remember scouts learn by having fun.

    • Hey folks. Let’s thank Chris. This is a scouter’s blog. Not a “Rah, Rah, BSA” forum. It’s good to hear from someone with negative experiences, because there might be a boy like him in your troop. And you can do him and your troop a world of good by keeping Chris’s reflections in mind.

      In our troop, we had more than a couple of boys with disorders (including Asperger’s Syndrome) that made scouting rough for them. Sometimes we could adjust and make it work. Sometimes we realized the parent was pushing something the child didn’t want or couldn’t possibly enjoy or grow from on account of the disorder!

      Sometimes, talking years later in retrospect with the boys who left, I learned that there were a couple of things that we missed that could have encouraged them to stay.

      In Chris’ case, based on how he described it, First Class rank was treated as trivial. It’s shouldn’t have been. (My sons both took years to earn it.) Think about it. Chris is a First Class Scout! He is a scouting success story! HIS RANK SHOULD COMMAND YOUR RESPECT. It should mean that he is qualified to take a patrol hiking and camping independently with his mates, especially since he took a while to get there and has experienced the in’s and out’s of troop life. Instead, he felt less than stellar — thinking that he was advancing too slowly.

      Some of you have written off his words as “hateful” and “bitter”. Read again. Think about the boys in your troop. See if any of what he says might apply. See if you can put out a word of encouragement.

      I tell every scout whose doing well at rank advancement this:
      The best scout I ever knew aged out at 2nd class rank. What made him the best? He invited me to join his troop! Make your next rank, or not. But, above all, go and be the best scout that someone ever knew.

      • I hope Q is a scoutmaster, or an adult volunteer with regular contact with the troop; I’d like to have others catch him doing exactly what he recommends. I love scouting; our children were active and so were we. But more than once, I was struck by the need to model and teach empathy. My favorite of all the. Scout virtues is “A scout is kind.” It needs reinforcing from time to time.

    • I have a scout who is on the spectrum. He is ADD & PDD-NOS he has been in scouts since he was a Tiger and has just made Tenderfoot. About every 6 months I ask if he wants to continue his scout journey and the answer is always yes! The Troop works with him by allowing him to pack his own tent (so he can decompress when he gets overwhelmed) to asking me how to get him fully engaged in other things (he was having trouble focusing during rock climbing merit badge. The answer run laps before starting)

      So I’m sorry that Scouts weren’t a good fit for you. But it hasn been a great program for my scout!

    • This is his own perception of his reality. Let’s hope that his experience is not a common one. I don’t believe that it is. Best wishes Chris.

    • Unfortunitly it happens 🙁 we had a similar issue, and you don’t want to kick out either boy so you try and work with both. In my case it was one kid not systemic for the troop, After our bully didn’t get reelected patrol leader he quit so it worked itself out.

      If your son likes the program/the outdoors there is nothing wrong with troop shopping. My troop is good but I have heard of some that value “disaplin” and “team building” over scouting ideals. Troops are pretty autonomous so a bad commity and scoutmaster can last for a long time

  15. There are excellent resources for parents and Scout leaders on this subject on the BSA Education Relationships web page.

  16. With Autism becoming the norm rather than the exception I am surprised that there is not more training for adult leaders to provide guidance in assisting these scouts to excel. Maybe a week at the Philmont Training Center can develop a program to send out nation wide. Also the parents need to be involved and communicate with unit leaders the level of their childs Autism.

    • Parents definitely need to be more than involved if they have a child with special needs like Autism. Please remember that the other parent volunteers may not have the proper skills needed to deal with your Scout and they may not want to. Our troop has a family with two special needs Scouts and we barely see the parents. They drop off their Scouts and expect the other adults to handle everything. Unfortunately they are normally disruptive and I don’t feel like I need to be a babysitter.

      • AMEN brother. We have had several of these special needs kids in our troop during my tenure as scoutmaster. And the parents look at you like deer in headlights when you inform them that they need to go to summer camp with them because the rest of the adults in the troop are not equipped to deal with these issues (im sorry, but, we are not mental health counselors, we are volunteers). I am the parent of a severly disabled young man and it would have been like me dropping him with his leaders for summer camp saying :take care of him, see ya in a week’. I get the whole needing a break thing, but, dumping your kid off on scout leaders is not the way to get it. Oh, and whatever you do, dont call them special needs, call them ‘gifted’, else the parents will wig out on you for addressing the elephant in the room. Personally i dont know why any parent wouldnt jump at the chance to spend quality time with their son, especially in this day and age….

  17. I attended college with Temple Grandin. We are close friends. I have been in scouting as an adult for over 30 years. My troop has had boys with autism numerous times. We treat them as we treat every other boy. Our current autistic child will make Eagle, but he might be 30 years old at that time. Teaching him life skills and interacting with the other boys has made him a better person. If he starts to have problems we ask him to run it past the 12. It works every time. Even his teacher in school has noticed the diffrence and will use the 12 to help keep him on track.

  18. I’ll second the bullying…but our scoutmaster turned it into a learning experience for the boys. They learned about acceptance, handicap awareness and how to find strengths in everyone. The boy in question became my son’s best friend, and has succeeded beyond all expectation.

  19. My guess is the other scouts in all these troops have gotten as much out the experience as the scouts that have autism have. I’ve always said, “every kid should experience scouting”. This just moved my marker a little further down the scale. Our troop has a boy with Downs, and he is just a much a part of the troop as every other scout.

  20. I signed my son up for scouts as 1st graders. He had severe autism, was mute at 5 yo.
    I joined as I wanted to see him interact with other kids. 4 years later he the most awarded scout in the troop and I’ve been committee chairman and ast cub master.
    This is just what Scouting is inclusive.

  21. My son has autism and he’s highly functioning too. We’ve been in Scouting since he was a Tiger and he’s getting ready to crossover next March. There was training on the topic when I went to the University of Scouting last year.

  22. My son is in the middle of the spectrum, what was previously called Aspergers Syndrome. Did not fit in in school, did not like team sports, did not socialize. Scouting has been his savior. He loves the outdoor part and can ID any tree in the woods, even in the winter when all e has to go on is the bark and branch structure.

  23. My “almost” Eagle Scout was diagnosed after Kindergarten. He’s LOVED Scouting ever since! His leaders have met him where he’s at every step of the way – yet encouraging him, always, to excel. It’s provided a badly needed place where “rules are rules for everyone”.

  24. Just celebrated an Eagle Scout Court of Honor for a boy who joined my den as a Bear and crossed over to the troop where I am the committee chair. The scout turned in his Eagle paperwork before his 18th birthday and earned many more merit badges that the minimum required. Now he’s off to college in the fall. Scouting did wonders for this young man and he did wonders for scouting.

  25. I too have a son with high functioning autism who got involved in scouts 3 years ago. Things were going so well…….but now we struggle with the parents of other scouts, they just think my son is a problem child (not understanding his condition) and we feel like we are being pushed away by the other parents, including my son. The scoutmaster is doing everything he possibly can to make it work

  26. Let’s make sure we are clear on this. Scouting can be a major benefit for some kids on the spectrum. My youngest son is high functioning ASD and he is loving scouting, and after he had some long hart to hart talks with his scout master and patrol leader it’s helping him mature.

    That said it’s not for every kid, my eldest son is also on the spectrum, very high functioning what used to be called PPDNOS. He hates bugs and has anxiety attacks when he gets dirty. We tried scouting (and a stem oriented venture crew). It just wasn’t good fit so we moved on (hopefuly without letting him see my disappointment)

    Scouting can help for some ASD kids, it can be a big help, but you can’t force it. That would be detrimental

  27. My son was diagnosed with asperger syndrome at age 4. He just had his eagle board of review.
    He is an Eagle Scout three weeks after his 17th birthday.
    God is Good all the time and so is Scouting!

  28. My son is on the Autism Spectrum . He enjoyed scouting for the most part. He is oldest child of four and now turning 21. He started in first grade. There was one on one parent participation. He had his ups and downs as his piers were the competitive type.He enjoyed Scouting enough to keep going . When he was in Boy Scouts things started getting hard for him. I wasn’t allowed to help him with his merit badges and he couldn’t write out answers to the questions until I finally told them he needs me there to dictate the answers to me and I would write them down.This took three years to figure out what worked for him. Then as the rest of Troop was becoming more independent and my son wasn’t , I had to go with him everywhere since no one was trained to communicate or work with him besides me. When he was sixteen we were asked to find a new Troop . But my son still liked scouting so I found a Troop that could work with him . A year later the Scout Master stepped down when his son achieved Eagle, leaving the troop without a Scout Master not trained for special needs kids. But my son wanted to continue so I stayed with him until he made Eagle Scout himself. He was so proud of himself he completed his board of review by himself. He may have needed me to coach him, he still had to do all the work himself. He is in a Scouting Crew in the local area. He also participates in the local Lodge as well. Our council has gotten better at providing training for Scout Leaders with special needs kids with variety of needs. I know scouting has made him a better person.

  29. My son was diagnosed with Aspergers (high functioning autism) in second grade. We got him involved in scouting because it was a safe place for him to learn social skills. It was by far the best decision we ever made for our son. He learned so much, gained a ton of confidence and learned how to cope with his disability. He bridged to boy scouts, became a den chief, patrol leader, senior patrol and became an Eagle scout. He lives his life according to the scout oath and law and this fall will go away to attend a 4 year university. Ten years ago we never would have dreamed he would be the young man he is today. I attribute alot of his growth to scouting and the volunteers who gave so much of themselves for our children.

  30. I highly disagree because I know that not all leaders are trained and this causes some major issues, specifically the day Camps when parents don’t attend. Make sure to do your homework before you sign with a specific group by having your chold visit a few times to make sure you are bother comfortable with the group. And Scouts needs to MANDATE that all leaders have training in a variety of disabilities.

    • Did you explain your sons situation or did you just expect the adult leaders to be surrogate parents. By wanting to mandate special training I suspect the latter.

    • Parents should attend with their sons if they need that extra assistance. Volunteers cannot be expected to know how to handle every situation- on top of taking care of everyone else. My son is on the spectrum, and doesn’t have extreme behaviors, but he will shut down and get frustrated with things easily. I’m a scout leader, and I will ensure that I’m there with him in these kinds of situations. Scout leaders should be offered training so that they can help out if needed, or that they can help the other boys understand. BSA does NOT stand for Baby sitters of America. If your son needs extra help and attention, you should be providing that- not expecting volunteers to be Special Needs educators.

      Also, maybe you should suggest to the troop that they work on the Disabilities Awareness merit badge.

  31. As a former Scoutmaster with a special needs sister and also having a Committe Chair by my side with a special needs daughter, this article and the comments really struck a chord with me. I have experienced the complex issues first hand and from all sides.

    It is a reality in Scouting that not all Boy Scout troops are the same, nor are most well-equipped to deal with scouts who have disabilities. No is it always an issue of proper training, nor an isssue or desire to do the “right thing.” Adult leaders are volunteers and in larger troops where there is a sufficient size of dedicated adult (and sometimes mature youth) leaders to provide a one on one leader to devote to the scout on the spectrum, rest assured both the unit and the scout will benefit. Unfortunately, that is not always possible in small Troops, but yes one still needs to “Do your Best.”

    There is a significant parental component in the equation. Some parents are absolutely wonderful, understanding, and quite willing to participate in their son’s scouting experiences. Outstanding! This includes necessary oversight of their son when he poses a safety risk to others. However, many parents seek out scouting as a means of obtaining their own (very well needed) respite, and expect the adult leaders in the unit to take over because “it is there job.” I was empathetic and understanding of such parents; after all, I saw my own parents confront the very real difficulties that a family experiences raising such a child. I have learned there is no substitute for caring parents; a Troop simply can not provide great scouting experience without invested parents to assit…that is true regardless of whether the scout is special needs or not!

    Philmont was mentioned; in my personal experience leading two separate treks, parents often fail to fully disclose their son’s spectrum disorder and medications. This can (and did) have a significant detrimental impact to the others in a high adventure trek. It is not fun to learn for the first time on a 70 mile plus, Philmont hike that one of your youths has an obsessive-compulsive disorder that caused him to use his water, not for needed hydration, but for constantly cleaning his hands. This was hidden from the troop and the adult trek leaders by the scout’s parents and their physician, who could not appreciate the stresses that Philmont can have, physically and mentally.

    Alas, there was NO greater joy for me as a Scoutmater than to preside over an Eagle COH for a special needs scout who reached the top of the mountain. Such excellent accomplishments were often juxtaposed in my mind to some of the “normal” scouts, who did the very bare minimum to earn the Eagle badge of honor. Give me a “disabled” scout any day of the week and I can show you how “able” and truly honorable they actually are, but I need that willing parent by my side. AMDG & YIS.

  32. We found that one of the most important requirements for success with autistic Scouts is getting their parents to step back so that the Scout has the freedom to learn and advance without their parents telling everybody, including the Scout, that the Scout can’t do whatever the task or activity requires. The parents seem to be over-invested in their child’s limits and view them as insurmountable. When the Scouts achieve some success their world changes and they begin to open up. Yes, it takes some patience, but the results are quite rewarding. I had a conversation with the administrator of a residential facility for autistic kids and she agreed with our approach. Give the kids a chance and many will run with it.

  33. My son is on the spectrum too. Cub scouts was great, and he worked really hard to complete rank requirements in boy scouts, but all his progress was wiped away when the new handbook came out, so he now has to start his ranks all over again. This has been very demoralizing for him, and despite my efforts to encourage him, I’m not sure he can make it, especially because he hates repeating requirements that he’s already completed. It’s sad, because something so positive has turned so negative.

    Then again, cub scouts in general feels much more positive and happier and more inclusive, whereas boy scouts has a more fascist, elitist, lord of the flies feel. In other words, people are not so nice anymore, and it’s a more competitive/keep up or get left behind atmosphere.

    So, Isaiah, cubs may be fun, but watch your back in boy scouts!

    • He should not be starting his ranks all over again. If he started on a rank before the new requirements came out, he would be finishing up that rank under the old requirements. He doesn’t have to go back and do all the rank requirements again. Also, the new requirements aren’t extremely different from the old ones- more just adding some on. I think you must have been given wrong information. I don’t understand why he would have to do the same requirements that he has already completed.

      I do agree that the competitive atmosphere is going to be hard on a lot of our kids- specifically if they get put in a troop that doesn’t know what to do for special needs kids.

  34. My oldest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s at a young age. When he went to his first Eagle Court of Honor as a Tiger, he said he wanted to be an Eagle Scout because of seeing the ceremony. He earned his Eagle Scout Rank in 2015 and I couldn’t be more proud of him. He attended summer camp every year, completed two 50 mile canoe trips, camped out at +7 degrees F and just about every trip, he said he didn’t want to go but was brave and went anyway. Every trip ended with him having a great time with his friends and me sitting back and enjoying watching him grow into a fine young man. Scouting has been a blessing for him! he is now an adult leader in our Troop and conducts Scout Sill assessments and participates in Boards of Review. An amazing young man!

  35. From the parent of a child with a learning disability, I got involved because I needed to be able to help my son be able to deal his stuttering problem and be accepted by everyone. I did not want my son to be treated any different from the anybody else. Scouting has provide that opportunity for my son because he is more comfortable speaking and being a part of something he believes in.

    I agree scouting is not for everyone, but if you open up yourself to see the possibilities the program has to offer to the young boys who will eventually become young men it will have a tremendous effect on there lives and yours, I have seen a real impact on my son’s life, especially since he is a only child he now has 12 brother who he can’t wait to see every week.

    My son never like any type of team activities until he got involved with scouting because it has taught him to be more accepting of everyone as more people are willing to accept him. I am active parent in scouting who believes in the program and what it has to offer at least give the boys a chance to see the impact it can make so don’t be so closed mind you may in the end actually enjoy it and.

  36. Glad I checked in on this subject today. During the time of the Depression and World War II, I was in the scouts for a few months and I couldn’t afford 20-cents for a shirt so I could not continue being a scout. To this day I regret it. Matter of fact…I barely missed the Orphan Trains…but the alternative was no walk in the park. Learning about Asperger syndrome being upgraded to high functioning…sounds much better. Bless the parents.

  37. I agree with many comments. Scouting provides opportunities for all – not just young men, but also for the young women in Venturing and Sea Scouts. It never ceases to amaze me how dynamic, passionate, and unselfish leaders are. Each of you brings your own unique talents and experiences to Scouting and to the families of scouts. Thank you for your commitment to enhance the health and well-beings of all Americans. Together, we are changing lives.

  38. Great article! Our oldest son is high functioning (diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 4) and he floated in and out of one troop before joining his younger brother’s troop. He made it to First Class with a 2 1/2 year break, did a trek at Philmont, and was a member of a Venture crew until he aged out. On his own, he applied for a position at Philmont the summer he graduated from high school because of his love of scouts and Philmont. He is currently on staff at Philmont for his fourth summer (he has a lead role in the Opening Campfire program this summer). Although, his scouting experience was not about the patches and rank advancement – he proudly escorted his younger brother in for his Eagle Scout ceremony. We are proud to say we are a Scouting family and have seen the benefits of scouting in our two sons!

  39. I am not saying it’s a cure. But my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s with ADHD. He is high-functioning it takes a little bit more work for him to understand but once he understands. He stands on his own two feet. I am so proud he’s been in it since he was a cubby and now he second-class and going to Yosemite for the very first time. He has proven it to me along with his scoutmaster that he could handle this. With all his therapies and doctors and Specialists this has been the best thing for him. Because his school has seen all his hard work in as a Boy Scout the whole community and the school has backed him up and supported him in all his efforts. Yes at first when he turned we below it was sad to feel that nobody wanted him in their patrol. But that changed after a year. He did not want tho say he was ASD. Ado he showed that he could bee part of a team. He is still quiet. But he can stand up and defend what he knows and what he knows is right. I stayed behind and watch from afar how he little-by-little prove to me that he’s got this. So now Matthew is representing 419 in Yosemite with his Patrol .

  40. Scouting is an excellent opportunity to help individual who struggle with engaging others. The key is the Troop. Find a Troop that is willing to engage with the individual and make the person feel welcome what a wonderful experience it will be. This does not apply to individuals with special needs; it applies to every individual’s basic need to feel value but becomes even more critical to a person with Autism. Encourage the Troop to accept and engage every new Scout. My grandson loves his troop and would not think of any other Troop. When he sees another Scout, he ask are you in my Troop.

  41. My son had the same as the story, he pushed thru the tough times and eventually went to 2 national jamboree and finally got his Eagle scout . Can’t be any more proud of him and I thank all the scoutmasters thru his scouting career to not make him feel out of place because of his autism.

  42. We have a Scout with Autism which includes selective mutism – he speaks to very few people. Sometimes, it made things a little more challenging. But next month we will celebrate his accomplishments at his Eagle Court of Honor! So proud of this young man.

  43. My son was diagnosed at age 6 with high function Austism. I he is the youngest of 5. I remember thinking my life was over for about 15 minutes. Then I thought he will be like everyone else. We can do this!! He didn’t talk and has sensory issues with food and cloths and a very short temper.

    He was in team sports but we made a decision to pull him out because he wouldn’t wear the cloths needed to play the sports. Then we found scouting.

    We put him in scouting as a way of socializing. He saw an Eagle Scout and I will never forget that day. He said I want to be an Eagle and I thought he can do that!!

    We have had many challenges. We have had great leaders and some that I thought we will have to leave this troop but all in all it was a great experience. The boys took care of him.

    We became very active in scouting and it became out life for our family. I became a committee member and his para professional in meetings. He struggled and still does with reading and writing.

    He didn’t get to go to philmont because he wondered and we decided that for Dylan and and the leaders it would be best if he didn’t go.

    It was a long road but a month before Dylans 18th Birthday he got the final paperwork done and became an Eagle 🦅 scout. Oh the joy we have for Dylan and he has for himself. We didn’t ask for any special help. He did this on his own.

    When he went before his board of review, he was back there a long time. I was a nervous wreck. When they called us back one of the board member said I want to shake the hand of the parents of this young man.

    He said that he had brought up his autism and referenced it to scouting and how scouting had helped him overcome some of his issues. Then he told us that he had a grandson with autism like Dylan and they were not sure if scouting would be a good thing for him, but Dylan and showed him that just because you have autism doesn’t mean you can’t achieve. Dylan told him that scouting had helped him make friends. He allowed people to sit beside him now. He tried new foods even though he always brought his own food and learned he liked some of those foods. He thanked Dylan and us for showing him that Autism is just a name. It is not the person. As he was telling us all this tears of joy came to my eyes as a proud parent.

    As parents with an autistic child. We decided to climb a mountain and climb it with Dylan climbing beside us. Most of the time he would fall behind and sometimes he would stop all together. Sometimes we felt that he was pulling us back down. There were lots of nights I cried for myself and for my child who was so different from the other kids. He would come home from school and say that other kids called him weird. But in scouts he was at home. Those are his friends. Those are the ines that take care of him.

    I am not here to say scouting is for everyone with Autism. I will say this, parents need to be involved and paying attention. Try different groups. Our great leaders went and did research on autism and worked with the the other boys as well on how to deal with disabilities. That was a badge that our boys earned easily.

    Dylan has decided that he wants to be a assistant scout leader and has now joined Sea scouting. We are just very proud parents of a child who has over come so much in a world that can be unforgiving.

  44. Autism was an unknown in the 1950s, and i was just mentally troubled and it was suggested scouting and it worked beginning cub scouts so even with no diagnosis common sense and good parenting got me past ALL issues relating to having Aspergers. In some ways it was better that i was undiagnosed and parent’s saw al asperger issues as something they could deal with by college educations and encouragements. So i learned reading, writing communicating far younger than most net result was my issues were the education system couldn’t keep up with me. And scouting was part, cub scouts then boy scouts and shining a lot of brass buckles. Times we need to look at ourselves harder to solve a problem before calling for help.

  45. Ok Start with Full Disclosure. I am Silver Beaver with Great Passion for Scouting. It may not be perfect but it beats the heck out of whatever is second. On purpose in 1985 through 2000 I was a Scoutmaster. I am still involved with Scouting but more at International Scouting in different countries.
    On purpose when we started the Troop we looked for Scouts that were autistic, A.D.D. or some other issue. The original group of men (yes it was men only that went camping with critical support from the ladies) had no family members in the Troop. Our sons were at the Cub Scout Program. None of us had sons with special needs.

    We had some ground rules for being in the Troop as established by our Charter Rep.
    1) Every youth had to have someone over 18 to help in some way. For example one of our Scouts Grandfather was a disabled vet who was home bound but he could use a phone. He was our communication contact person for the adults and contact person for the Scouts. We got creative to make sure that every Scout had someone in their corner. We were not Baby Sitters of America.

    2) No Scout could ask their parent to pay for anything. They could not ask for a merit badge book, camping supplies, nothing. We had very good quality fundraisers which were Scout ran but with Adult Supervision and planning as needed.

    3) Every adult was trained and expected to go through on going training no exceptions. Many of our Scouters also became involved at the District and Council Level. We encourage our adults to start new Units. We strongly encourage Friends of Scouting.

    4) We went on incredbile Camping Trips over the years working with Endangered Sea Turtles in Yucatan to Hawaii (we are in Texas) to Horseback Riding for a solid week in the Mountains and so much more. This was all paid through fund raisers. These were serious on going projects that made money not a quick Saturday car wash with no advance planning. At least a service project everytime that we went camping.

    5) No Scouter over did it because everyone one did their part.

    6) We were blessed because of proper training and encouragement over and over for safety. We had not one broken limb not one stitch in the entire time. Of course we had other First Aid things but no Doctor Visits.

    7) WE HAD FUN!!! All of us.

    8) The Scouts advanced and to the best of my knowledge all of them are doing good. Many of the Scouts stay in touch with me. Many are involved with their sons who have made Eagle.

    Remember these were the Young Men who others wrote off because of Autisim or A.D.D. or you just fill in the blank. So to those of you who Scouting Experience was not what you expected maybe you just did not truly apply what Boy Scouting Programs Truly had To Offer.

    THE NUMBER REASON THAT I HAVE SEEN THAT THE SCOUTING PROGRAM DOES NOT WORK IN A TROUP IS THAT IT IS NOT SCOUT RAN. It may not be always pretty or as organized compared to the adult world but once you guide not tell the Scouts you would be amazed at the results.

    Good Scouting to You.

  46. As the grandparent of a young lady on the spectrum I can tell you that Girl Scouts has done wonders for her, similar to what I read here. I am a former Scout (Star), Asst. Scoutmaster, MB councilor, Eagle Mentor and High Adventure Leader – have a brother and son who are Eagles and might have gotten mine if our troop didn’t suffer the death of the scoutmaster and no replacement parent stepped up – my dad did some of the work but couldn’t be there as often as needed.
    The comments on this thread are amazing, and the parents and supporters of these boys and to be celebrated. I worked with many scouts over the years that still talk about some of the adventures and want a “reunion tour”!
    The scouting organization is amazing and while has challenges does continue to evolve, that is the key – it evolves and grows and recognizes that every boy deserves the best we can bring to them and get out of them.
    I was medically challenged back in the 60’s when I was a scout and did take some “crap”, I went to summer camp, the 1964 National Jamboree and while a scout gained a lot of self confidence and self reliance.
    My parents were involved in scouting until my youngest brother decided football and girls were important. I travel for work too much to continue with scouting but do miss the troop, leaders and most of all watching the boys grow into men – it was a highlight bringing my son through to Eagle Scout.
    Best of luck to you all, you are amazing people – Happy Scouting

  47. Our son with Autism will have his Eagle Court of Honor tomorrow night- our entire troop and all teachers and classmates will be there. He has been in Scouting since Tiger Cubs – it was a great experience for him and for our family. He cooked for a local group who deliver Meals on Wheels for sick and elderly for his Eagle project. He has so much confidence and has learned so much from Scouting. My husband and I are a little sad our scout trail is coming to an end. We loved scouting for all it has done for him – and for others. Our son loves to give back and help others.

    • Your trail doesn’t have to end — my son got his Eagle rank and aged out two years ago. My husband is the Committee Chair and I am on the committee and serve as a Family Life merit badge counselor. We’ve said that we will stay in Scouting until the young men who bridged over when our son was still in the troop age out, but now we are becoming fond of the newest Scouts who just joined last spring, so we’ll probably be Scouters for at least another 5 or 6 years (until we get a fresh group and so it goes on….). There is always a need for adult volunteers!

  48. Every autistic person is different. Our autistic son went into Scouting and made it to First Class. He also accompanied me as I did Scout jobs as an adult leader and trainer.
    These days he has a part-time job with a car rental company. On his days off, he sometimes helps me out as we set up the portable photo studio for LinkedIn shots for the unemployed at a nearby non-profit.
    Scouting was good for him. Even though he might not have been talking to his parents then, he would talk to other kids, so it got him socialization outside school.
    These days, he holds conversations with people like an adult. Yet, if you ask a question, or ask him to make a choice, he will demur.

  49. If only all scouting experiences were like this. My high functioning, bright, funny and intellectual son is merely an easy target. So much so, I don’t let him go on scout functions alone. If I did, he’d be alone. He’s ignored, made fun of and talked down to at every turn. Even “counselors” at summer camp have taken advantage of him. So much for leadership. Scouting has changed so much since the 70s. It was once pure fun. All troop members were Included in all activities. Now it’s as exclusive as everything else. If you don’t fit in you get left behind. I’ve witnessed it over and over again. So much so that I am ready to tell my son who is life scout rank that it’s not worth it. I refuse to let him be taken advantage of, ridiculed and left out any longer because he’s autistic. For those who don’t want to know him its there problem.
    Be careful how you treat others. The God I pray to doesn’t allow His followers to judge one another. Also the person you exclude today could be your supervisor tomorrow.

    Kenny Gomez
    Spring, Texas

    • I feel your pain… and it is completely valid. But please do not assume all scouting is like the experience you had. Just as in the rest of society, there are all sorts of people. Some of them are caring and open. Others fail to understand that the world isn’t made up of people just like them. (Please see my comment about my experiences as a scoutmaster.)

  50. As a den leader, cubmaster, and scoutmaster over the last 15 years, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of scouts on the autism spectrum (at various high functioning levels). Each of them brings something unique to the group. Each of them gets out of the program varying levels of growth.

    I currently have a 16 year old life scout (J) who is about to about to earn his Eagle. He completed his Eagle project and is only waiting on completing two more merit badges. He has had to overcome much to get to this point.

    I look back to one of the first camping trips when he first joined at 11. We were hiking at Antietam battlefield. He was one of a handful of boys hanging back to watch the creek from the bridge. To get them moving, I called out to the group (not just this particular scout), “Bye guys, we’re taking off!” Most scouts, as most people, understand that as a motivation to get moving. J was greatly disturbed that I wanted to leave him behind. I immediately realized my gaff. I spent the next two hours assuring him that I would never have left him behind. Move forward five years… he now has no (ok, little) problem picking up on the subtlety of literal vs. figurative/joking/ironic speech.

    He still struggles as a leader (putting the needs of the troop/patrol ahead of his own interests), but his fellow scouts see enough in him that they elected him to be our next SPL. I know that I have my work cut out as SM to help him grow into a leader… but that is true of all SPLs. I also know that he will put in the effort to grow.

    BUT this is not just about J. It is also about the rest of the troop. They all know that J has “issues,” but they adapt to it. There are some scouts that don’t know how to interact with him… but there are lots of adults out there with exactly the same issue. There are some scouts that J doesn’t know how to respond to. But, for the most part, they ALL eventually learn to work/play together. Both J and the fellow scouts are learning how to treat one another with respect AND how to react when social interactions aren’t inherently easy.

    ———–

    And now my word of advice to parents of kids with autism. LET THEM SEE WHAT THEY CAN DO. The scouts that have grown the most are those whose parents don’t coddle them and protect them from the world. The scouts that have grown have seen success and failures. They have learned how to deal with both. I had another scout on the spectrum whose father came on every camping trip. At 17, the scout still didn’t know how to cut his own food—and he was much more highly functioning when I met him than was J. One grew the other did not.

  51. Scouting is an excellent choice for boys with all sorts of disabilities, not just autism. As a district commissioner and Health officer for Cub Scout summer camp I am often recommending the “scouting with disabilities” program.

  52. Scouting is the best supplement education for all our children. It helps them develop who they want to be in life.

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