When it was first suggested that he start the cub scouts I thought, “Okay, we’ll try this for a couple weeks and then he will lose interest.” I figured that if he showed interest though we should try it and see because it would be good for him to socialize with other kids.
The first meeting was interesting. With Tiger Cubs you have to have a parent there with the scout, not that we would have left him alone anyway, so I went in thinking that I would keep Konner on task during the meeting and try to keep the scout master from kicking us out. Turns out, other than a few redirections, Konner did well. He played marbles with the other boys, and actually won a game. He seemed to be interested.
The real surprise came to me about three weeks into scouting when the scout master decided to move away. He was in need of someone to take over the troops and become the new scout master. Nobody wanted to do the job, so I decided if Konner really enjoys this, and it’s the one thing that he really is interested in, I’m going to do whatever I can to help him. So, being the sucker I am, I stepped up and took over.
Let me explain something, I’ve never been a boy scout. Prior to his signup I couldn’t have done the salute, motto, etc. When I was younger we didn’t really have a scouting troop anywhere I was, so it wasn’t something readily available to me. So I went into this thing blind. With a little research online…okay, a lot of research online, I have taken over and tried to do my best to get things running.
There have been a couple meetings where Konner either didn’t attend, or had to leave early because he was over stimulated. However, those occasions were during a time when we were working on regulating his behavior medicines. For the most part he has been a good participant, and the other boys seem to understand.
In fact, Konner has done pretty well during most of the meetings, and seems to enjoy himself. He works along with the other kids, really enjoys the arts and crafts, and liked the visit to the fire department and newspaper office. He has been a great scout and earned several belt loops along the way.
According to the website Working With Scouts With Disabilities (www.wwswd.org), the group has a long history of scouts with disabilities, and an understanding of the special needs. The site states that the first Chief Scout Executive, James E. West had a disability that affected his leg.
A statement on the site includes: “The BSA's policy has always been to treat members with disabilities as much like other members as possible, but it has been traditional to make some accommodations in advancement requirements if necessary. A Scout with a permanent physical or mental disability may select an alternate merit badge in lieu of a required merit badge if his disabling condition prohibits the Scout from completing the necessary requirements of a particular required merit badge.”
The site includes links to help with scouting including policies, resources, handbooks, and other sites to help with any disability.
Scouting magazine from September 2006 included an article about working with autistic boys in scouting. One mother of a son with Asperger’s Syndrome said in the article, "I didn't know how he could participate. He made friends for the first time in his life.”
As many of us know, when a child with autism begins to focus on a task that they enjoy it is hard to get them to stop. She said that her son was inspired by working on badge requirements in his handbook. "He doesn't stop working until he's accomplished each achievement," his mother said. "One weekend, he worked hard at balancing so he could walk on a small balance beam at the next meeting. Scouting has been very helpful for his self-confidence."
Scouting has embraced the autism community so much that in certain areas entire groups of scouts with autism have been formed. This is true for a pack in Des Plaines, Ill. According to Autism: Asperger’s Digest Magazine for July/August of 2010 the group has taken strides to include autistic children. They have actually re-written the handbook so that it is autism-friendly. They have visual schedules for the boys to help keep everything as routine as possible. According to the article, by Becky Kaufman, “Scouting is a way to build relationships and skills with neurotypical peers. We needed a version of the Tiger cub program that every child at our school could participate in regardless of their challenges.” So they revised the traditional handbook so that it was uniquely for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
One mom said in the article, “I never thought my son would be able to do this! I love the way this enables special needs kids to belong to something that before was only for the ‘regular’ kids.”
Aside from the social interaction that helps the child with autism, Cub Scouts are great for all boys. It teaches them about citizenship, good manners, team work, responsibility, and other life skills that any child could use. These are the skills that I want both of my boys to learn.
This is also good parent/son time. There are family activities that the boys must do to earn merits. In a world where family values are lacking it’s good to know that one program is still taking a step to teach them.
Who knows, maybe someday he’ll be an Eagle Scout.
We are still looking for some scouts in the Panama/Shady Point area. If anyone is interested you can contact me on my facebook, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 963-4152.
Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at email@example.com. I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.