Here are five things to know about working with Scouts with ADHD

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Millions of children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to a recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

October is ADHD Awareness Month, which makes it a good time to pick the brains of a couple of BSA-endorsed experts on the subject.

Larry Kubiak is the director of psychological services at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital in Florida. Geoffrey Cox is a licensed clinical social worker in the Atlanta area with more than 40 years of experience working with children.

Both are Scout volunteers who serve on the BSA’s National Medical Subcommittee — and both have tons of experience working with kids who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, along with their parents and Scout leaders.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a brain disorder found more commonly in children, but adults can have it as well. It involves difficulty with keeping attention, controlling one’s urges and in maintaining the ability to act appropriately in response to different situations.

“ADHD is a neurological condition that occurs from birth, and like all neurological conditions, there’s no cure for it,” Kubiak says. “But there is treatment.”

People with ADHD might have difficulty paying attention and staying organized, make careless mistakes, and could be easily distracted, among other symptoms.

“The child might be difficult to direct,” says Cox. “There may be some impulsive behavior, which can be a problem.”

Can kids with ADHD excel in Scouting?

They absolutely can.

“I have to really praise Scouting, because we give kids with all kinds of exceptionalities the opportunity to be successful,” says Kubiak. “Some parents maybe have tried other things with their kid and maybe they found that they’ve had difficulty being successful in other activities, so they’ve they put their faith in Scouting as an organization where their kid can be successful.”

What should a Scout leader do if a Scout with ADHD-type symptoms is struggling to keep up with their peers in the program?

The role of the Scout leader is not to diagnose a Scout with ADHD. It’s to make sure every child is safe and has equitable opportunity to succeed in Scouting.

Part of that means simply being aware of the symptoms of ADHD.

It also could mean having an open, honest conversation with parents.

“You don’t want to label a kid when talking to their parent,” says Cox. “You might say something like, ‘I’ve noticed they have a hard time focusing and paying attention. Is this something you’ve noticed in other areas?’

“Don’t be accusatory. Be respectful and mindful of the fact that the parent might already know what’s going on.

“You might say, ‘I want to make sure they have a positive experience.’”

You can also:

  • Seat the Scout near a good role model.
  • Allow extra time to complete work.
  • Give clear, concise instructions.
  • Allow breaks or time to move around
  • Try to limit distractions
  • Ignore minor inappropriate behavior.
  • Supervise closely.
  • Remind the Scout to check over their work.
  • Praise appropriate behavior.

What if a Scout is on medication for ADHD?

Scout leaders should discuss with the Scout’s parents the plan for prescribed medication during Scouting events.

“Sometimes parents will want to give their kids a ‘drug holiday’ on the weekends when they go on campouts or other Scout activities,” says Kubiak. “You can always make a friendly suggestion that a parent discuss that with the prescribing physician.

“It’s a fair question to ask because you’re not just taking into account the safety of that Scout, but you’re also concerned about the safety of the other Scouts in that unit.”

Where can I go for more information on ADHD and Scouting?

Abilities Digest, the official publication of the BSA’s National Special Needs and Disabilities Committee, has published a lot of helpful info on ADHD, including best practices for Scout leaders.

The BSA has also published an ADHD-focused Safety Moment.

The website of Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder has tons of great info, including a Scouting-focused article .

There’s also tons of stuff in the ADHD section of the American Psychological Association.

This article from the Scouting magazine archives is worth a read.

And, as always, get in touch with your local council for information on resources in your community.


About Aaron Derr 449 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.