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.

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