Throughout my career in Scouting I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of special needs Scouts. In our schools, Public Law 94-142 gave all children the right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education way back in 1975. But special needs children are not always welcome everywhere. Scouting, where every child can work at his own pace, is one place that many special needs kids can not only fit in but to thrive.
Even with Scouting being a welcoming program, we depend on volunteers who often don’t have experience and training working with special needs kids and sometimes misidentify them as obnoxious, lazy or stupid. Moreover, sometimes our special needs children need modifications that run up against personal belief systems of our volunteers, and we lose the opportunity to help those children realize their own version of success. Especially as the Scouts become older, otherwise well-meaning adults often misinterpret parent involvement because they just don’t know any better, setting the boys up to fail.
At one point in Cub Scouts I had a young man who was deaf and autistic. I was fortunate in that he had an aide who worked with him to help interpret, but also help me modify my behaviors and maintain high expectations while dealing with his disabilities. It helps to know what you’re dealing with, but the reality is that not every disability is quite so profound and the help isn’t quite so apparent.
Autistic Scouts are commonplace in most units. We deal with a variety of other disabilities including motor skills, dietary allergies and dyslexia. Sometimes families disclose these things to us, other times we don’t find out until something has happened or worse – we never figure it out at all. With some boys we’ll ask that their parents stay involved. Other boys just fail to advance and eventually fall out of Scouting.
Speaking to this, I was really excited to read that the Three Fires Council’s Special Needs Committee was piloting a “Unit Special Needs Coordinator” position council wide. They have provided a position description online so that other units can build upon this to create their own positions. The Council is providing additional training to these Coordinators as part of their commitment.
This is something I hope catches on as we continue to deliver on the Promise of Scouting!