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Autism and Scouting

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Karen and John Krejcha head up Autism Empowerment and  Autism and Scouting  to promote Acceptance, Enrichment, Inspiration and Empowerment within the Autism and Asperger communities. They serve all ages and all abilities and seek to improve and enhance the lives of individuals and families impacted by autism.

John volunteers as a Tiger Cub Den Leader in Pack 462 and assistant Scoutmaster in Troop 462 where his sons are a Tiger Cub Scout and Star Scout respectively. Karen currently serves as an Assistant Den Leader. He and Karen also serve on the BSA Cascade Pacific Council’s Special Needs Committee which serves SW Washington and Oregon.

You’ll find some key resources and lot’s of support at Autism and Scouting. A good place to begin is this PDF file of tips for Scout leaders and this  What is Autism page that is an excellent introduction to the subject.

Serving Scouts with autism is, in many respects, no different than serving any other Scout. The first challenge in serving any Scout is understanding how they think, how they express themselves, and how they look at the world. Once we learn to accept that everyone communicates, thinks and experiences things individually our world begins to expand. The folks at Autism and Scouting emphasize that it’s a mistake to see autism as a label that describes all autistic people, each is an individual with their own individual way of processing the world.

I get email from Scout leaders who have had an autistic boy visit a troop meeting and are worried about disruptive behavior or their ability to serve a boy with autism. Of course there will be challenges and adjustments but I always encourage Scout leaders to embrace the challenge – this is not an ‘oh no!’ moment, it’s a ‘we are so fortunate that they chose us!’ moment.

There’s a good chance that an autistic Scout will behave differently than other Scouts. Some of these behaviors will be troubling if you don’t seek to understand them. I think that the first barrier is understanding that an autistic Scout is not choosing to behave a certain way, he is simply responding to the world in a way that makes the most sense to him, and that’s true of all Scouts (and adults for that matter).

How would you react if a boy in  a wheelchair who communicated using a voice simulator and breathed through device that wheezed and clunked all the time wanted to join your troop? Would you make whatever adjustments and changes you could to accommodate him or would that be too much trouble?

What if a family who had just immigrated from Albania came to a troop meeting with their son who wanted to be a Scout and they didn’t know any English? What would you do? Would you send him away and tell him to come back when he learned to speak English or would you start learning some Albanian?

We accept any boy’s differences because that’s who he is, and we’ll work with him as he is. We’ll learn his language and help him learn ours. We’ll make every accommodation we can to make it possible for him to do what the other boys do and we’ll respect his differences.

Respect is a key concept, this boy isn’t flawed or disabled, he’s differently-abled.

He’s not going to be disruptive unless we look at him as a disruption. Our troop, our scouts and our fellow adult volunteers are all going to expand our understanding and the way we do things to include this boy, and we are going to have an opportunity for spiritual growth because of it.

Working with any boy who wants to be a Scout is is not going to hurt our program, it’s a precious opportunity to expand and enrich it.

Our first step is dismissing, one by one, all our preconceptions of what’s going on and the then working to understand how this boy sees the world. Put yourself in his shoes, in his parent’s shoes, how do you feel? Frustrated, angry, ashamed, uncertain, threatened, misunderstood, tired of explaining yourself and you son? What will spell success for him and his family?

None of what we do is aimed at changing this boy, he changes us and widens our understanding of the world.