Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Advanced Leadership for the Scout with ASD

Welcome to all and we hope that you enjoy this, the third part in my trilogy of blogs on Leadership.

If you missed the first two parts, I hope you can go to the first two in the collection of blogs on leadership.

Part 3 – Advanced Leadership for the Scout with ASD (below)

For those of you who wonder where I get ideas for the blogs I write, there are three sources of where I get my ideas.

1 – The ideas come from the readers of this blog, readers from our Facebook Page Autism and Scouting and from people that e-mail me directly. These tend to be real life questions about what is going on with a leader or parent who is supporting a scout on the Autism Spectrum.

2 – Ideas come from my own experience with my oldest son who is in Scouting and also from what I look forward to and perceive when my youngest joins scouts in about a year and half as a Tiger.

3 – Ideas will come up when I attend Autism support meetings or from articles/stories I read on-line and how they might relate to those on the Autism Spectrum.

If you have any questions or ideas, you can e-mail me at autismandscouting@gmail.com or post a comment on Autism and Scouting Facebook page.

So let’s get into Part Three – Advanced Leadership for the Scout with ASD

Before we go any farther there are two things that need to be addressed when working with any scout but especially with those older scouts who are on the Autism Spectrum.

1 – One of the first sayings I heard at a National Autism Conference that really stuck with me after my two sons were diagnosed with autism and Asperger’s was, “When you meet one person with Autism (or other related ASD), you have met one person with Autism.” This means that there is a lot of diversity among those on the autism spectrum and what autism or Asperger’s “looks like” in one person may present very differently in another.  This is very true in comparing boys and girls. In fact I have read in many places that the true rate of autism or Asperger’s in girls is very likely higher than statistics show because of the way standard diagnostic criteria is interpreted.

Although there are similarities with those on the autism spectrum, there are definitely differences as well.  Two kids may have sensory issues but one might like hot, one might like cold, one might like crunchy, one might like creamy.  Each is an individual and this should not be forgotten. Each scout has different things going and has different goals that they are trying to get out of scouting. Sometimes advanced leadership is something they may never be ready for and this is ok. 

2 – Ask the scouts what they want out of scouting.  Putting pressure on the scouts to advance is not what it should be about.  This is not the time for parents to live vicariously through their children and put undue pressure when it is not needed. Although it’s fun to get badges and beltloops and earn awards, some of the biggest benefits of scouting are about seeing personal growth, promoting teamwork and socialization, building friendships, learning skills and having fun along the way. Scouts should dread going to scouting looking at it as work. It should be fun. It may not always be easy but the rewards should outweigh the risks. This doesn’t mean that you should not encourage a person to reach outside of themselves and push the envelope but it is important to make sure to find out what the scout wants out of scouting as it may be different that the parent wants.  Also, this may very well change over time as a child matures and has more experience in scouting.  (In the beginning, it is often about the fun and the rewards.)

As Robert Baden-Powell has been credited for saying “Scouting is a game, a game with a purpose.” Games should be fun. A debate goes on regarding his exact words but most agree on his intent.

So… at this point, let’s say you’ve talked with your scout and found that he or she does want to advance in rank.  In order to do so, leadership is something he or s
he would like to learn more about and take a more active part in..

In part one in this collection of Blogs (Part 1 – Leadership at the Cub Scout Level – A Foundation in Leadership), we took a look at the Cub Scouts and how the Cub Scout Program is a safe and wonderful place to help a scout get his feet wet with leadership training. I strongly encourage anybody that is supporting a Cub Scout with an ASD that they make sure their Den uses or encourage them to use the Denner (Sixer in Australia) Program. (I’m not sure if there is something equivalent with Daisies, Brownies or Girl Scouts but if there is, I encourage the same.) This will be a great introduction into leadership for those who want to continue in advancement.

In part two (Part 2 – Finding Leadership Positions for Scouts with ASD), we talked about Leadership positions that can give the scouts a feel for leadership and that work as a good introduction into leadership that has even greater responsibilities. Each of these positions that we talked about are important in helping a scout build a foundation of leadership experience.

Now for the final part: Advanced Leadership for the Scout with ASD.

Patrol Leader 
In Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts the older groups are separated into Patrols. Patrols are typically 3 – 7 scouts that meet together and go on outings together. The Patrol leader is elected by all of the members of the patrol and generally serves for six months. (In beginning patrols with scouts who have just crossed over from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, you may find during their first year that the Patrol Leader duties may be a shorter term to give more scouts a chance at getting familiar with the leadership position. Eventually, in order to get credit for leadership as a Patrol Leader, you do need to serve a longer term.) After six months are up, then elections are held again. Once the Patrol Leader (PL) is selected, then that person appoints an Assistant Patrol Leader who steps in for the PL if they are not available.

The PL makes sure that meal plans for camping trips are completed and ensures all dues are paid by each member to the Troop. The PL knows where each member in the Patrol is as far as rank advancement, encourages their advancement and makes sure members attend meetings and outings. (This may include telephone or email reminders.) The Patrol Leaders reports directly to the Senior Patrol Leader and is part of the Patrol Leader Council which usually includes a separate monthly / regular meeting.

As this is an elected position, the scout must work on social skills to get to know each of the other members in the Patrol. Adult Leadership should not mandate that a particular scout be elected but it should be encouraged that each scout be able to have a chance to lead.

Senior Patrol Leader
(President – Venturing or Boatswain – Sea Scouts)

In a Boy Scout Troop, this is one of the most important and respected positions a scout can have on his leadership resume’.  The Senior Patrol Leader (SPL) works directly with the Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster.  He runs all of the meetings and is head of the Patrol Leader Council. All the Patrol Leaders and Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders report to him.  It is also his responsibility to plan future meetings as well as helping to plan the scouting yearly calendar. He also encourages members of the troop to attend outings. Serving as the leader of the troop for those outings, he also makes sure that all of the patrols are prepared and empowered.

This position is elected by the other members of the troop every six months. The Senior Patrol Leader then has the opportunity to appoint one or more Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders depending on the size of the troop.

Junior Assistant Scoutmaster

This is a position that is appointed by the Scoutmaster and reports to the Scoutmaster. This position is typically open to those who are over the age of 16 and have reached the rank of Eagle Scout.
In this position, the scout acts as an Assistant Scoutmaster and then at the age of 18, he can officially become a Assistant Scoutmaster after completing any additionally required training.


These positions need to be elected to or be appointed to but will provide valuable life and leadership experience. In order to be elected or appointed to these positions, it may take time for a scout to show his / her strengths. It will take time to get to know other scouts and go on many of the outings to be known by the other scouts. Not everyone wants to take on a position of advanced leadership and that’s okay. It is important to do your best and keep on striving to improve yourself in any way that you can.

Mentoring or Shadowing
If a scout feels they may not be ready for one of these positions presented above, it is ok.  Those that went before were more than likely feeling the same way (NT and non-NT alike). Maybe there is still something you can do to help or get yourself more prepared. Talk with the Scoutmaster and he might be willing to have you work with the current person assigned to a particular leadership position and have you be a shadow or mentor.  This will allow the scout to get a feel of the position with less initial anxiety about the responsibility.

The scout would not get official “scouting” credit for leadership through mentoring or shadowing but they would get the experience and a feel for various position and would gain valuable life skills. I would think most leadership would be willing to work with those scouts who really want to aspire to these positions and give them a chance for success.

Some troops have set up mentoring programs which will pair up older scouts with younger scouts and help them in leadership. Check and see if there is a program like this in your troop. If not, it would be a great thing to suggest!

Assistant Positions
If a scout doesn’t want to necessarily shadow one of the open positions presented and isn’t ready for senior leadership but is still interested in helping and maybe getting to that point, have them talk to the SPL or PL to see if they would be willing to have them be an Assistant Patrol Leader or Assistant Senior Patrol Leader. If the scout is thinking of these advanced leadership posts, they would more than likely be in the troop for awhile and would know the Senior Patrol Leader. Most troops will have either two or three (four in very large troops) Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders.

Leadership through Teaching
Another great way to allow scouts to get a taste of leadership is to allow them to teach younger scouts specific skills. During the course of scouting season there might be many chances where the scout who is looking for leadership chances can step up in skills instructions.

At each meeting there should be a portion of the meeting that has skills instruction. This is normally done either in small groups or as one large group. If a scout is aware of the upcoming skill, this would be a chance for them to go to the scout in charge and ask to take part. The Senior Patrol Leader should want all of the scouts to be successful and if the scout has the skills, they should be allowed to help teach.

Some troops have New Scout Outings where they will go out to a local camp for a night or two and help the new younger scouts with the skills instruction on the Trail to First Class advancement. This is a great chance for the scout to volunteer and offer a chance in a smaller setting to work on teaching the newer scouts.

Things not to worry about
Don’t worry if the scout is afraid to fail. Being anxious in front of a group is very common. There is a built in safety net in all of these positions. With the Patrol Leader it will be the Senior Patrol Leader or Scoutmaster, with the SPL it is the Scoutmaster and with the Junior Assistant Scoutmaster there is the other Assistant Scoutmasters and the Scoutmaster. Of course your encouragement and belief in your scout’s potential often goes a long way to alleviating concerns as you are a trusted person in your scout’s life.

Sometimes the scout might not ever be ready for these advanced positions and that is ok because just like not all scouts become Eagle, all Scouts don’t have to hold advanced leadership. This is not to say that these advanced leadership positions should not be strongly encouraged and explored if they are feasible, but sometimes it is ok just to let them have fun and learn new skills in the process.

If your scout is enjoying the scouting experience, chances are strong that he or she will be experiencing growth and learning skills that he or she can carry with him throughout his or her life. Perhaps he’ll meet his first friend or best friend. Perhaps her fitness will improve or she’ll hold her head a little higher and hold a gaze a little longer when talking to a peer.  There are so many benefits from scouting that cannot be measured by a badge and when assessing a scout’s progress, it’s important to remember that each child is different and it’s not a race or competition with other scouts. It’s a life experience and an opportunity to build memories, skills and friendships.

Not every day or camping outing may be a cake walk but a lot of self-confidence is built when a scout is able to work through a challenge or adversity that he or she didn’t expect to be able to do. Overall, the scouting experience should be enjoyable and empowering. As one of your scout’s biggest advocates, you can help encourage that through your love, support, acceptance and understanding.

Support Scouting

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Finding Leadership Positions for Scouts with ASD

Welcome back to the Autism and Scouting Blog and if you're here for the first time, you're welcome too!
I would like to thank everyone who has given feedback on the prior blogs and for also providing ideas for upcoming blogs.  There is a great deal to consider when we are supporting those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.   I am personally grateful that I can help in some small way to assist in making the scouting experience better. 

Please help me to also keep our network of scouts, parents and leaders growing. The more people we have, the more ideas that we can share together the better it will be for all of us.  In addition to leaving feedback here, you can always post your comments on our Facebook Page - Autism and Scouting.
Now onto Part 2 of this latest Blog Trilogy:
Part 2 – Finding Leadership Positions for Scouts with ASD (below)
Part 3 – Preparing for more advanced Leadership (coming soon)
Before I go on, I wanted to thank Gavin in Australia. I have learned so much about the Scouting program down under from him and I when I can, I want to pass that information along as well, so we get other scouting groups outside of the United States coming online with us so that they can share in the information and contribute their experiences and feedback.
In my last blog, I talked about the use of the Denner and Assistant Denner system to start to build leadership for not only those scouts on the autism spectrum but for all scouts.  

In Australia, they have a program that is close to the USA's Cub Scout program but they call their leadership positions Sixers and Seconds.  The Sixer is the scout leader and the Second is the second in charge. They also use a visual wall poster to explain the duties of each. I think the visual portion is a great addition especially for those that have issues around communication and who tend to think more visually.  Many schools for special needs kiddos use visual schedules or storyboards and for those who have those issues, it would be one more fairly simple to implement accommodation that would help in the scouting experience.
Thank you again Gavin for the great ideas and for sharing. This is how we can all learn together.
Finding the right leadership position for anybody in scouting can be challenge as they advance from rank to rank. (In Boy Scouting within the United States, that would be a crossover from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.) For those on the Autism Spectrum, overcoming the social piece and communication piece can be very hard but not impossible.
Within the US structure of Boy Scouts, taking on leadership positions within the group are required past the First Class rank (about a year to year and half after the crossover from Cubs to Scouts depending on how quickly the boy advances.) In Venturing and Sea Scouts, taking on a leadership role within the group is also required for advancement.  So finding the right fit for each scout is important and a scout that has an ASD should never be limited to what can be done just because they have Autism, however not all leadership positions might be realistic and in knowing your scout and empowering him to know himself, finding the right leadership fit is very important.
Like in life, scouts should start out with leadership positions in which they can build experience.  For those with Autism, it may take longer to grow more comfortable in embracing a leadership position, however scouts should certainly be encouraged. Their abilities and interests should be assessed to see what kind of a leadership position might be the right fit or a reasonable opportunity for them. Like any scout, they don’t have to wait until they are First Class if they feel ready to take on a role and it will still have significance because it will help them be more prepared for when the leadership will count toward rank advancement.
Each patrol will always need a Patrol Leader (or Venture Patrol Leader or Squad Leader) which will be elected by their peers in the Patrol once every six months.  The position of Patrol Leader does count toward leadership and the Assistant Patrol Leader don't officially count towards leadership rank requirements, the scout may or may not be ready for this type of position.
Knowing the strengths of the scouts and their special interest(s) will help in finding the right for them. There are multiple options available and here are some great positions that should be considered.  All of these positions can be used for rank advancement and will help build up a scout's confidence to take on higher level leadership positions.

Den Chief – This will give some of the younger scouts the ability to learn leadership and lead younger scouts at the Cub Level. It may be harder in some cases for those on the spectrum to relate to those in their patrol and this gives them a chance to learn how to lead younger scouts first.  It will also give the scouts a chance for adult association when it comes to working with the Den Leader to plan and execute the Den Meeting.  You may find that your autism spectrum Scout relates better to adults and younger scouts than his own peers and if this is the case, a Den Chief position with good Den Leader mentoring is a terrific opportunity to help a scout build confidence, respect from younger scouts and to gain experience.

Scribe / Secretary / Yeoman /Purser – This is a good position for those who are well organized. (In my experience, this may be an area of challenge for some spectrum scouts but if they're good note-takers in school, have good memories and can focus on areas of interest, this might be an opportunity to consider. They will keep record of what happens in the Patrol Leaders Council or the records on the ship (Yeoman or Purser).  This position will give the scout a closer look at how the unit’s inner circle of leadership works and how the leadership positions relate to each other.
Librarian - This scout maintains the Troops Merit Badge publications and assures that all materials are checked out and in properly.  They will recommend replacement when publications are outdated or in disrepair. This can be a great fit for many spectrum scouts who are rules-oriented.
Historian can be a fun and creative leadership position within a Troop, Venturing Crew or Ship.  This position collects and maintains the history of the unit and can spark a new special interest. They keep all scrapbooks and collect any articles that appear in the local press.  Another great way to introduce leadership and responsibility to younger scouts as well as pride for the unit they belong.
Order of the Arrow Representative is open to a First Class (or higher) Boy Scout who has been selected into the Order of the Arrow and completed his ordeal.  They will attend Lodge events and meetings and encourage other OA members to take part in OA activities. They encourage other scouts to attend campouts and older scouts to take part in higher adventure outings.  This leadership position requires a lot of communication and encouragement and those on the spectrum who are more expressive or working on expressiveness can use this position to increase their social communication skills and interacting with other scouts within the unit.
Quartermaster or Storekeeper – This position is a very important position within the scouting organization because this person makes sure the unit's equipment is in proper working order and is all accounted for.  For those who like to have structure (most on the Autism Spectrum) it allows them to organize and keep equipment in order. This position also works with an Adult Quartermaster so it allows them to have the support of an adult leader.  This is a very good starting point in leadership as well.

Chaplain Aide – This position makes sure that all of the outings have a religious program at each outing and will lead the unit in an opening prayer.  This position will also work with an adult leader so this position will give the scout extra needed support.  The scout will be able to practice public speaking and will get to associate with both youth and adult leadership.
Troop/Crew/Ship Webmaster – This is a new position within the Boy Scouts of America as far as leadership is concerned. This will allow those on the Autism Spectrum that have computers and/or technology as a special interest to really blossom. The position will also work with an adult leader to make sure that the unit’s website is up to date and it will also provide the unit with a positive communication and recruitment tool.  New technology such and having a unit Facebook Page or Twitter account will ensure that the unit stays informed and up to date with current outings or meetings.
The above leadership positions are great ways to prepare scouts for more advanced leadership positions such as Patrol Leader, Senior/Venturing Patrol Leader, Boatswain (Sea Scouts), Assistant Patrol Leaders, President or Vice President (Venturing Crews) , Instructors, Leave No Trace Trainer, Junior Scoutmaster or Troop Guide.

But what if my Scout is still not ready for leadership or he/she doesn't have the ability to do a leadership position because of his/her condition?
Scouting should be for all.  Try not to sell your scout short from experiencing growth, empowerment and leadership no matter what the scout's condition.  A place can be found no matter what level or ability the scout is at. Here are some suggestions if you feel your scout is not currently ready for any of the above leadership positions.
1 – Have a meeting with the scout and the unit’s leaders and if you feel comfortable with privacy issues concerning your scout, consider including the youth leadership.  

Regarding disclosure of your scout's condition to others, please see my 3 part blog series on Autism Diagnosis Disclosure:

When, Where & How - Part 1
Our Autism Spectrum Disclosure Experience in Scouting - Part 2
Autism Spectrum Disclosure - Final Thoughts - Part 3

In your meeting with leadership, explain your concerns and ask if the leadership think the scout is ready to take on bigger challenges. You may be surprised that they might be. It's natural to want to protect them out of love and concern for their well-being but it's amazing how often our children can surprise us and themselves with what they are capable of.
2 – Don’t worry if they are not perfect (who is?) or are not able to fully do the position right away.  If they are not successful at first, this will give them a chance to learn and grow.  There is adult leadership that should be in place to catch the scout if they need help and help foster his or her growth as well.
3 – You can ask if the scout could be an assistant to one of the above leadership positions.  They will not get "official" advancement credit for the position but if they can be an apprentice to that position and will give the leader in that position a chance to help and mentor another scout, it is a win-win situation.  Your scout can get an understanding of the position and what it takes to do the task and it gives the person in that leadership position a chance to teach.  This may not always be available but if you don’t ask if this could be done, you and the scout will never know.  I think most units would be willing to work with the scouts to make sure they can all be successful.
4 – If your scout wants to try out some smaller leadership positions within the confines of the Patrol,  you could ask the Patrol leader to set up a designated leadership assignment or area of responsibility within the patrol.  For example, one scout would be responsible to be Grubmaster (one who buys the food for a camping outing), one might be Skitmaster (one who makes sure that the patrol has a skit for each outing), one might be the patrol Chaplin who leads each meal or outing with a prayer and one might be Patrol Quartermaster (who takes the patrol box home after each outing and makes sure all of the equipment is in working condition and accounted for). This is something that would need to be worked out with the Patrol leader but would be a great way to practice leadership at the patrol level first.  
The Scoutmasters and Crew Advisor or Skipper are around to see the scouts be successful and of course parents who volunteer are encouraged and welcome.  I would imagine that any sincere and dedicated leader would be willing to work with each scout to make sure they can have a chance to able to experience the growth area of leadership and if it seems like your leadership may have challenges in this area, it might be time to step up to the plate and see how you can assist.

I realize that I have written this in a style that may seem to be for parents but if you are a scout, scout leader or caregiver happening into the blog, I hope you will find benefit here as well and tailor it to your own personal situation.
I would love to hear what worked for you. For those parents here, what has worked for your scouts?  What has worked? Any suggestions or anecdotes you wish to share?
My son (who has Aspergers) just recently made the rank of First Class (back at the end of March) and loves computers.  He is the current Webmaster for the troop we are in and considering the boys range in age from 11 - 18 and he is still 11 and is now interacting with boys in a wide range of ages and levels of social maturity, my wife and I are very proud of him taking on this role.

He loves the position and has really stepped up and is coming out of his shell. In meetings now he makes announcements about the website and asks people to send in photos. He takes his digital camera to scouting events and takes photos for the website. This has made scouting more exciting and enjoyable for him, while at the same time teaching him more responsibility and leadership.  It has also allowed him the opportunity to verbally and socially interact with boys in his troop of all ages who he might not have otherwise been as quick to feel comfortable with.
The last part of this Trilogy will deal with transition to higher leadership positions and preparing Scouts for that next level of leadership.
Questions and comments can be left on this blog, the Autism and Scouting Facebook Page or you can e-mail me (John) at autismandscouting@gmail.com
Support Your Scouts!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Leadership at the Cub Scout Level – A Foundation in Leadership

I hope all are having a good scouting season so far. I have been getting some wonderful questions which I will be turning into some great blogs I hope. 

Keep the questions coming and suggestions and I will do my best to get to each and every topic that comes my way. Thanks to everybody. 

I wanted to clarify for those that might be confused that there is currently a Facebook Autism and Scouting "page" and a Facebook Autism and Scouting "group".  It's okay to be part of both but the page is where I see the most activity happening in the future.

I formed the group first thinking this is where we would meet, then Facebook made a bunch of changes to their format and it made more sense to me to move the group to it's own page.  So even though I still consider us a group by definition, on Facebook, our group is on a "page".  Sorry for the confusion!  If you just follow this link and click "Like", this will take you where you need to go.


The new Facebook Autism and Scouting page (different than the old "Group" page due to Facebook changing formats on everyone) is really starting to take shape and many new features are being added and coming soon. We just added a new poll about who in scouting you are supporting.  I will be doing more polls in the future and hope to provide additional content as well.  This is meant to be an interactive participation page, so please feel free to share your content and opinions as well. If you are not part of our Autism and Scouting Facebook group yet, please come and “Like” us and tell others that you might find the kind of support helpful. Here is a link for you: Autism and Scouting

Today’s topic is a spin off on a question that I had received. The question came from a Venturing Crew parent in which the scout had progressed fine doing leadership and other higher level requirements but was not ready to move on the next level.

I have also received similar letters asking about general leadership and how those on the Autism Spectrum can take part in leadership for advancement.  So what I will attempt to do is combine both questions into one collection of blogs and give some ideas on what might be a good solution and progression toward the goal of having scouts on the spectrum be involved in leadership. I also am going to start the topic at the Cub Level because this issue should not just start at the higher level of scouting, it is a skill that can be fostered from Tigers (Joey or Beaver) onward.  

This is also going to be a set of blogs since there is a lot of information to cover. 

Part 2 – Finding the right leadership position in Scouting
Part 3 – Preparing for more advanced Leadership

FYI – For those of you are not familiar with Venturing Crews, they are similar to Rover Scouts, Sea Scouts, Air Scouts or Explorer Scouts. The age group is typically 14 to 26 (26 in Australia and Canada) and do higher adventure activities. In the US, the Venturing Scouts are part of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and they can earn Bronze, Gold and Silver Awards.  The purpose is to provide positive experiences to help youth mature and to prepare them to become responsible adults. The nautical version of this worldwide is the Sea Scouts. 

Since I am not sure of many of the Girl Scout requirements, in this blog I will mainly deal with leadership positions within the Boy Scouts and Venturing Crews. 

Leadership is defined as: “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”.  Many times those on the Autism Spectrum have a challenge when it comes the social piece of this and relating to peers and then being put into a position of having to communicate an idea or set of directions.  Finding the right leadership positions, having chances to learn how to lead (which may have to be done repeatedly) and being given the correct type of support system is very important. For advancement in Scouts (Boy Scouts, Venturing Crews and Sea Scouts) leadership is required at different levels. 

I think for those who are parents or leaders of children or teenagers on the autism spectrum, giving them a chance to learn leadership should start as early as possible and that means at the Cub Scout level.  It can even start at early as Tiger (Joey or Beaver) level because this will give the scout a chance to practice early on. I would recommend for all scouts at the Cub level to make attempts practicing responsibility because leadership can be used by all scouts and the skills gained can be applied to the school classroom, to the home and to many other social settings. 

How can I teach leadership or have them practice leadership at the Cub Level you may ask? 

When I first became a Den Leader I used the Denner and Assistant Denner System. This is a system that is not often used in Cub Scouting but I think it should be. When I become a Den Leader for my youngest when he starts out as a Tiger Cub next year, I will use this from day one. 

A Denner and Assistant Denner can either be elected (typically at the Webelos level) or on a rotation system set up by the Den Leader.  

The Denner will assist the Den Leader or Den Chief with the following:

1. Set up of the meeting area

2.  Leads the group in the opening Pledge, oath and law)

3. Takes attendance 

4. Helps in leading actititives

5. Helps pass our refreshments and clean up

6. Helps in closing and final clean up

The Assistant Denner will help out the Denner and will lead if the Denner is not at the meeting or outing.  This is the first chance to give two scouts areas of leadership early on in the scouting experience and give them opportunity to see leadership over and over again.  The hope is that through repetition they will be more social with the other scouts and feel more comfortable.  It also gets them used to participating in a group setting which can have positive benefits transferred to the classroom.

Some benefits to each scout are:

1. Each month two scouts find out what leadership is firsthand. 

2. They are able to fulfill rank requirements (Wolf and Bear) which otherwise they are not able to. 

3. They are recognized by being able to wear the Denner and Assistant Denner cords. 

4. When I ran the program in my den the Denner sat up front next to me and the Assistant Denner sat at his right hand. This was to show that leadership has benefits and positions of respect. 

5. This prepares the scouts for the Patrol Method that is used in scouts later on and is bridge to Boy Scouting concepts. 

6.  Scouts and parents that are engaged and involved are more likely to stay in scouting. 

7. For those on the spectrum, it gives practice in communication and leading activities. 

8. For those who have greater issues on the spectrum it gives them a chance to be more involved and feel more part of the Den.  

9. It introduces the concept of adult association (a Boy Scouting Concept) when they work with the Den Leader and Den Chief (if you have one).  

10.  Teaches responsibilities and introduces this concept.

11. It promotes acceptance and inclusion.

12.  It allows each scout to let their light shine.

How is the Denner chosen? 

I used a rotation system the whole time but in retrospect I should have used the election method during the Webelos years. During the Tiger (Joey or Beaver), Wolf and Bear years I would recommend using a rotation method each month to make sure that all of the scouts have an equal chance and that no-one feels left out.  

The rotation system is where I choose one scout as Denner for the first month and an Assistant Denner , the next month the Assistant becomes the Denner and then I have a new scout become the Assistant. Once the last person in the den is an assistant then the next month the assistant becomes the Denner and then the first Denner becomes the assistant. The rotation then continues. The Pack will hopefully add scouts and then you work them into the rotation. 

This rotation system is good for those on the spectrum because it is very predictable and builds in more structure but also introduces the concept of change (scheduled rotation-or scheduled-change).  Make sure that the scout is aware that change in schedule may happen with the introduction of additional scouts. If a new scout comes into the leadership rotation, consider still keeping the person in front and behind the scout on the spectrum the same so that it doesn't appear their routine is as disrupted.  Use your best judgement. 

When the scouts become Webelos, they are about eighteen months before they crossover into the next level of scouting. Your den should move to an election system. This is where once a month the den elects a new Denner (the scout who is elected one month should not be allowed to be the Denner again for the next two cycles and all scouts should have a chance to participate in leadership at least once before a scout is re-elected) and then the Denner appoints the Assistant Denner. This will provide a bridge to the Patrol Method. This is good for those scouts on the spectrum as well because you can slowly introduce a new concept in a small safe environment which will be part of the scouting experience if they move on to one of the next levels of scouting.  The concept of elections is a great bridge for all of the scouts.

The use of Den Chief to teach Leadership

The use of Den Chief will be also talked about in one of the upcoming blogs on leadership from the perspective that this gives a scout who is on the Spectrum a chance to be a leader for younger scouts and assist the Den Leader.  For the purpose of this section, it is to show that having a Den Chief will teach the Cub Scouts who have Autism leadership. They can also be used as a mentor to scouts who are on the autism spectrum. 

1. Many times those on the autism spectrum will be able to relate better to those who are either older or younger rather than their peers. Having a Den Chief, gives a bridge between you as an adult leader and a youth that they might be able to better relate to. This also gives the scout a chance to see what an older scout leadership position would look like. 

2.  If you use a Denner System in conjunction with a Den Chief, when the scout with Autism has his chance to become the Denner, this will give the scout a chance to work with a peer and learn how to better build those bonds and communication.  If the scout has autism with more issues, having the Den Chief be aware of the scout's condition (if not a diagnosis, then perhaps some of the specific challenges he or she is facing) would be recommended with parents approval.  

Rank Requirement Work

When doing your rank requirements make sure that your den or your scout does the leadership portions of the requirement.  Citizenship is a wonderful start to learn about leadership because it helps build on the feeling of being part of something bigger. Communication portions will help build skills to help your scout effectively express themselves and is needed to be an effective leader. 

Bear – For the Self section (do four), make sure that the scout does section 24 (Leadership)

Webelos – Make sure the scout does the Citizenship (required for Webelos Badge) and Communication activity badges as both are good foundations in leadership. 

Also, as a Webelos scout leader or parent of a Webelo, start to have him understand what the next level of scouting looks like.  Have him learn about Patrols, Patrol Leaders, Senior Patrol Leaders and the structure of the next level of scouting. If they have transition and understanding of what is to come in the future, they may be more willing to stand up and take on a leadership role sooner. Any transition preparation is helpful and will be useful. 

Do the following Beltloops:  Citizenship and Communicating. 

Cub Scouting provides many opportunities and a great foundation to start to building leadership and life skills for scouts on the spectrum.  The earlier one gets familiar with and involved, the easier it will be to transition and be comfortable for the scouts once they move on to the next level of scouting. Don’t let this teaching platform go to waste. 

 Leadership Transition from Cub to Scouts

Support the Scouts

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Autism Spectrum Disclosure – Final thoughts Part 3

Welcome back to all for part three. 

Autism Spectrum Disclosure – The final chapter

If you have not been around for part one or part two, please check out the following and would love to hear what you have to say. 

Part 3 – Autism Spectrum Disclosure – Final thoughts

Now that I have given some feedback on Disclosure (part 1) and you have read what our story is (part 2), I have had time to reflect on what I first wrote and prompted some  additional tips.

1      Try to provide a balance between the realities of the needs of your scout and the privacy of your scout compared to safety concerns. Safety should always win out. 

2      All medical allergies should always be disclosed and all appropriate leadership need to know for your scout's protected. 

3        Make sure to have a private meeting in advance of your scout joining a unit to talk about your scout's strengths and areas of challenge. 
4        At a bare minimum, your unit leader and Committee Chair need to know of your scout's condition and issues. 
5        When filling out any medical forms, provide as much information as possible. 
6        If the leadership does not know about an issue, they will not be prepared to help your scout out and could put the whole unit in harm’s way.
7        The leadership wants your scout to be successful; work with them like you would a teacher and give them the tools they need to help get the best out of your scouts. 
8         Provide the top leadership an introduction letter (at the private meeting or prior to the meeting). On single  piece of paper, provide the scout's name, a recent photo (color if possible), areas of challenge, strengths, special interests and triggers that might send the scout into a meltdown. If you can provide any suggestions or tools you have used to help an these situations that would be also be very helpful. For example a brief sensory break or quite area to recover.
9        Make sure any leader is aware of any wandering issues especially in a camping or hiking situation. Your scout’s life might depend on it. 
10    If your scout has a more severe case of Autism, consider doing a unit awareness presentation to help inform the unit about your scout's condition. Knowledge is power and most scouts should show the scouting spirit and will welcome and help your scout. 
11    Do not let Autism define your scout, let their actions define their character.

Be willing to be on the scouts first few outings at a bare minimum. Being involved in leadership is a rewarding way to help empower and bond with your scout as well as being an advocate for them. Many times a scout just knowing you are around will allow them the personal security is close at hand. This helped with us early in the Boy Scouting experience. 

If you have any other suggestions, let us know. You can e-mail me at autismandscouting@gmail.com or leave a message on the Facebook page Autism and Scouting.

Support Your Scouts

Monday, May 16, 2011

James E. West - (May 16, 1876 – May 15, 1948)

Today I am going to take a short break from my three part series around the subject of disclosure of your scout's diagnosis of Autism and will finish it up sometime this week.

I wanted to shift gears just a bit and pay tribute to James E. West who was the first Boy Scout of America’s First Chief Executive. 

Yes, this blog is dedicated to scouting and Autism support but I feel that taking a moment to recognize all of the accomplishments of James E. West on this date that he was born would be the right thing to do since he is a symbol of disability awareness and scouting in the United States. 

James E. West was born May, 16 1876 to a mother who had just lost her husband. Then when he was seven years old he was left without a mother because she had caught tuberculosis the year before. He was placed in a Orphanage and a year later in 1883 also contracted tuberculosis and by 1885 was crippled.  

He had a very difficult childhood but worked his way throughout school while having to work.  He never forgot his younger years and became a lawyer in 1901 after passing the bar exam and became a strong advocate of children's rights when they did not have many. 

His career started out as an Assistant to the General Secretary of the YMCA, and during the Spanish–American War, he acted as General Secretary. 

He worked for President Theodore Roosevelt and helped establish the juvenile court system in the US by making sure a bill was passed by congress. 

In the early 1900s, he was the finance chairman for the Boys' Brigade and the secretary of the Washington Playground Association, later the Playground Association of America. He later served as secretary of the National Child Rescue League, responsible for placing orphaned children into homes. West was then the secretary of the White House Conference on Dependent Children, pushing for reforms in the management of orphanages. His early childhood experience in these orphanages was never lost and remained part of him. 

In 1910 when the BSA was formed and was searching for the person to run the day to day operations, West’s name came up many times. He finally agreed to work for the organization for only six months.  He started the six months in 1911 and ended in 1943 as the Chief Executive Scout. 

During his first month, he organized the first six BSA Councils as well as started work on the first edition of the Boy Scout Handbook. 

West is credited in helping to expand the Boy Scout Oath to include:
To help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

He was also credited to help expand the Boy Scout Law to include:
brave, clean, and reverent

His time as the Chief Executive was not without conflict. He had conflicts with Daniel Carter Beard who was one of the founders of the BSA and published Boy’s Life. The split had caused Beard to leave and a stopping of the publication of Boy’s Life for a short time until the BSA purchased Boy’s Life. 

In 1915, he had a conflict with William D. Boyce one of the other founders which caused Boyce to start his own organization called Lone Scouts of America. In 1924 the Lone Scouts of America were merged back into the BSA. 

West fiercely defended the use of the term Scout and the right to market Scouting merchandise. By 1930, West claimed to have stopped 435 groups from unauthorized use of Scouting; both as part of an organizational name and in the use of commercial products. When the Girl Scouts of the USA started, West discouraged the program. In 1911, West worked with Luther Gulick when the Camp Fire Girls were established and always considered them to be the sister program of the BSA. When the Girl Scouts refused to give up their name in 1918, West appealed to Baden-Powell with no results. Lou Henry Hoover became the president of the Girl Scouts in 1922 and First Lady in 1929; West stopped his campaign to rename the Girl Scouts.

After James E. West retired as Chief Scout Executive, Dr. Elbert K. Fretwell succeeded him. Upon retirement, West was given the title of "Chief Scout" of the BSA, the same title that Seton had held. Dr. West served on the World Scout Committee of the World Organization of the Scout Movement from 1939 until 1947. International Scouting honored West with the Bronze Wolf Award.

Scouts of all abilities can learn from Mr. West. He could have given up but he fought and did not let his disabilities define him but he did not forget that it was part of him.  He was a tireless advocate for children’s concerns and the defense of scouting. 

Happy Birthday Dr. West: (May 16, 1876 – May 15, 1948)

Support your Scouts

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Our Autism Spectrum Disclosure Story in Scouting - Part 2

I hope all are having a nice weekend so far and welcome to all who are reading this blog. 

Thank you so much for all of the wonderful comments to the first part in this three part trilogy on the subject of disclosure of your scout’s Autism or special needs.
This is going to be part two tonight. 

Part 1 – AutismDiagnosis Disclosure: When, Where and How - Part 1

Part 2 – Our Autism Spectrum Disclosure Story in Scouting
Part 3 – Additional disclosure issues once your son/daughter is a Scout. The choices go on.

I will warn you that in the process of getting ready for this blog my thoughts have gone off on many tangents. I will do my best to limit tangents in my blog here but tonight if I make a couple of swerves off the main path, I will get back on track so hang on and let me know what you think.

Most I am sure would start this story with when their child had his or her diagnosis and then go from there but nothing about our family is so straightforward. Our story starts about a month and half before with the diagnosis of our youngest son in June of 2008.

When we left the doctor’s office with the news, included were a few brochures, a phone number to call for services (and nothing else) and a follow-up appointment several weeks later to talk about the diagnosis we were just given. Our youngest was progressing well and hitting all his milestones until around 18 months when a regression started to happen (this may sound familiar to some out there) and by his second birthday in May of 2008, he had lost almost all of his words (or perhaps didn’t lose them but became non-verbal), spun in circles for regulation, waved hello backwards and had not yet started outwardly showing imaginative play to the extent doctors thought he should have given his age. We knew something was wrong and after a four plus hour exam with a panel of professionals we were left with the diagnosis of Autism / Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I have to say I was just thinking it was some type of developmental delay and I was pretty shell shocked to say the least but Karen was not. She had done research online and was expecting it. That still didn’t make the diagnosis easy to hear.

Like many parents after receiving the news and not much other support from the medical community, we went home in a state of “what do we do now” and “what does this mean for our child” and tried to learn as much as we could. The days passed by hour after hour consuming as much information as we could and we started to realize that there were many schools of thought as to how to treat children with autism because autism is so different from child to child.

With each passing hour and each article we’re read, things that our oldest son was doing and his behaviors were starting to click that he also had an Autism Spectrum Disorder in the form of Asperger’s. One might ask how we didn’t notice this before?  Well, in retrospect, we do recognize now and understand a few early Asperger’s traits, however our oldest son had met his early milestones, showed giftedness academically and although he seemed a bit behind socially and with physical and gross motor skills, we attributed this at the time partially to him being an only child, partially to his personality seeming a bit like his mom’s (who we now know has Asperger’s too) and a lot to the fact that we lived in an area at the time where there wasn’t much opportunity for him to get outside, play and have socialization with peers.

Of course once Ryan was diagnosed and even a few months before that, certain behaviors started to ring bells in our head.  We had moved from CA to WA at the start of his third grade and learned at that time, that is was common for children with Asperger’s to start exhibiting more traits around that age.  We had a couple discussions with his 3rd grade teacher about behaviors but at the time were hesitant to put a label on it and weren’t sure if we did, what that label would be?  In addition to showing behavior consistent with Asperger’s, he was showing behaviors symptomatic of ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder as well. A few days later after our youngest son’s diagnosis, we contacted our oldest son’s pediatrician and we were able to get him set up with an appointment for an evaluation for late July of 2008. His first overnight Cub Scout camp was the second week of July, just a week before his appointment.

By this time the Cub Scout Pack in our area that he was with was winding down for summer break (with the exception of summer camp). We were still trying to get our heads around the process of getting services for our youngest but we wanted to make sure our oldest son was well taken care of as well and we wanted to make sure that for his upcoming overnight summer camp that he, we and the leaders were prepared. 

The three weeks between the end of that school year and the start of camp, both Karen and I felt that with all of the research that we did we had a really good grasp on technical terms and issues but emotionally it was still a tough time. We were going through a grief cycle and it was one of many that I’m sure we’ll experience over the boys’ lifetime.

For summer camp, our son was to attend a four day, three night resident camp called Gilbert Ranch just south of Portland and two of the three Bear Dens (mine and one other) were going to be going traveling together and doing stations together. Camp started about a week and half before my oldest’s appointment so we were kind of caught in what to do in terms of preparing paperwork for camp. After talking it over, we made the choice include on his medical forms a  “pending diagnosis of aspergers” or something to that effect.

We were so new to the all of this but we felt that to be the best advocate for our scout, it would be the most responsible thing to do. Once we got to camp and all checked in, there were two guides that were assigned to take our scouts from station to station each day. I was debating on what if anything I should say since we did not officially have a diagnosis yet in my heart I knew it was coming.

I will be honest, I struggled with the who, what and when because I was still trying to process everything and how our world had changed. That first day in camp, when disclosure was put squarely in front of me, I struggled with the privacy vs. disclosure issue. At this point, we had not even discussed it in any detail with our son because we did want to wait to talk to the doctors first but I was in the real world with a real choice.

That first day, we had many points when the boys and guides were waiting and at one point I made the choice. When the two guides were sitting alone, I went up to them and asked for a moment of their time. I explained that my youngest son had just received a diagnosis of autism about six weeks prior and that we strongly suspected our oldest had Asperger’s and that we had an appointment for him the following week to get an official diagnosis. I briefly told them about some of his triggers (we had much of the lingo down early) and things that set him off. They told me that it helped a great deal to have that information. As it turns out, the main guide had worked with kids with Asperger’s before and the other one said he had Asperger’s himself. Talk about a great relief being lifted off of my shoulders and perhaps some divine intervention as well. Two days later when a large situation happened, the main guide stepped in and had better luck than me in resolving the issue. Taking me out of the equation and having that support so early was a godsend.

There was one other den leader along during that trip and I made the choice not to tell her at the time (I did tell her a year later for other reasons) and it was a very good choice. She was a good leader and did a really great job with her Cubs but for the sake of my son’s privacy it was the right choice. She was witness to the situation that happened at camp and I had heard her make a pretty rude and insensitive comment which made me feel my choice was the correct one. 

For the most part, camp was great and he had a great time.
 The week after we got back, we did get the diagnosis.

That summer we had a great deal to talk about and we had even discussed pulling our oldest out of Scouts because we were faced with lots of therapy for both boys and trying to figure out how to provide the best possible care while running our business. We had a great deal to talk about and figure out. One of the things that we weighed was that fact that our oldest had made his first real friend through being in Cub Scouts and that weighed a great deal in our choice to have our oldest continue in scouting with me as the Den Leader.  We knew that if our son continued in scouts, I would remain his Den Leader. To see how much growth has happened with our oldest due to scouts, I am so happy that we made the correct choice.

So after we made the choice that the two of us were to continue, the questions came back. Who do I tell about his diagnosis, when and what do I share? One of the things we have always told our sons is that Autism and/or Asperger’s is part of you (like your eye color, height, hair color) but it should never define who you are.

At the planning meeting for the upcoming year, I had a chance to be alone with the current Cubmaster (who is now an Assistant Scoutmaster in our Troop) and the incoming Cubmaster for a talk about both of our boys. I explained that our family didn’t know what the future would hold but that we would take it one day at a time and continue in scouting. For our son’s privacy, those were the only people that we told in scouting at that time.

A year and later when we were planning for the next summer camp, our youngest was making progress in signing and starting to reverbalize some of his speech but taking care of him was getting to be much more difficult as he had impulses to bolt and other issues as well and it was unclear if I would be able to go the full week to camp. In a private meeting with the other two Den Leaders and the Cubmaster,  I told the other two Den Leaders about both kids.  Again, it was the right choice at the right time.  We ended up traveling that summer to the Autism Society of America National Convention in St. Charles, IL along with a visit to family in different areas of the country and ended up missing summer camp. 

For my oldest, the next choice of disclosure came when he moved from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.  We did a few things.  When we had a meeting with the troops, at some point in each case they asked the leaders and parents to a private meeting. In private with either the Committee Chair or Scoutmaster, I asked if they (the troop leadership) had worked with scouts on the Autism Spectrum and with Asperger’s. I did explain in private that my son was on the spectrum and got the e-mail addresses of the leadership (just like I would for one of his teachers at school). 

Once my son made the choice of troops, I was in contact with them. The troop that we went to wanted me to become an Assistant Scoutmaster right away but I told them I needed a break but I would be at the meetings and when I could, I would be at the campouts.  

At the very first meeting, I gave an introduction letter to the Committee Chair and the Scoutmaster. What is an introduction letter do you ask? It was a one sheet piece of paper with our sons name on it, a color photo (so they would know who he is) and a general explanation of what Aspergers is. It listed his triggers, sensory issues as well as his strengths.  It was short and to the point and easy for them to visually scan. At the end it also gave some website resources for them to visit if they wanted to learn more. 

During that first meeting, the Scoutmaster and I pulled the Senior Patrol Leader (youth leader of the troop) and we told him as well. 

After the boys were broken out into new boy patrols, two more people were told. The adult Assistant Scoutmaster who was assigned to the patrol as the adult guide and the scout that was assigned as the patrol’s Patrol Guide were also told of our son’s Asperger’s.  Both were going to be in direct contact with my son and helping his first year on this trail to first class. 

Over the past year, most of the Assistant Scoutmasters now know about the Asperger’s since they work with him. He gets along with all of them and is treated like any other scout and is given the same expectations as anybody else. The Scoutmasters don’t let the Asperger’s define him or limit him. Only a very select few of his peer scouts have been told since we wanted his privacy to be respected and for people to not be clouded with labels. 

Last year when he went to his first weeklong camp at Camp Meriwether with his medical form, we included the same style of introduction letter for the medical staff to have in case any issues came up while I was away or unavailable. 
 Just a bunch of Scouts having fun

This is always an ongoing process with him and as his parents and advocates, we will always need to weigh what is the best for his safety. 

Our youngest now three years later has regained his speech, has out of this world math skills but safety and sensory issues still abound. He will be entering Kindergarten this coming fall with an aide in a mainstream classroom and also be part of a program called SCIP (Social Communication Integration Program) that will assist with other special needs. He is excited to start scouts like his big brother but he will have to wait until he starts first grade as a Tiger (Joey’s in Australia and Beavers in Canada). The US has a pilot program for Kindergarteners called Lions but it is still in beta testing in two US cities (not in ours) so our youngest will have to wait one more year. 

Our youngest has challenges which are directly related to safety such as bolting and wandering so for him, it would be more prudent to provide information about his Autism to all of the adult leaders (in private) which would give more supervision potential.  We will provide an introduction letter to the CubMaster just like we did for his brother. 

Karen and I agree that I will again step into the Cub Scout leader position as his Den Leader and as such it might be important that the other parents know of our son’s condition as well. Providing a controlled environment with correct information as well as dispelling myths and misconceptions around autism can be a powerful learning tool for all and helps promote acceptance and inclusiveness.   

We still have some time to work these issues out and this may change but it would be one way to help ensure his safety. I am sure that many conversations will take place over this subject because his privacy is important as well. 

If there is anything that you would like to know more about, please let me know. The last part of trilogy will pull together all of the information talked about and what to do with the information going forward in regards to disclosure in scouting. 

Support Your Scouts 
Crossover 2010