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


  1. As usual, a great post.

    I'm not sure if Denner is a BSA word for sixer or if you have sixes as well.

    In Australia, we have sixer packs which are groups of six scouts (though my cub pack has four sixer packs of eight in it at the moment).

    The sixer packs are named after the colours that wolves come in -(Tawny, Brown, Black, Red and White).

    The "boss" of the six is called a sixer and the second in charge is called a seconder. The sixer and seconder are supposed to work together to support each other - and the seconder is to take over when the sixer is unavailable.

    We often get the sixers & seconders to setup and run games, activities etc and they help out with opening/closing and investment/linking ceremonies.

    I've created a wall poster for the front of our hall which outlines what I want my sixers and seconders to do. You can get it here.

    We select sixers based on age and experience. The number of badges earned and camps/outings attended comes into it because I believe in rewarding those who put effort in.

    I usually try to have a mixture of girls and boys and I'll always have at least one or two sixers/seconders in the pack who have special needs.

    It's great for social and character development.

  2. Hello Gavin. I am sure getting a great education in your scouting program.

    Here in the US, Tigers (Joeys), Wolves and Bears are broken into Dens. They are typically 6 - 10 boys. I know in Canada, UK and Australia girl and boys are together which I think is a great idea but will not happen here in the US (with the exception of Sea Scouts and Venture Scouts).

    In each Den, there is a Denner and Assistant Denner system which are the scout helpers to help the Den Leader. The Denner system here sounds like your Sixer and Second system.

    I used it with great success when Justin was in Cubs and will use it again when Ryan starts next year.

    Thank you as always for all of your support and I love learning about your scouting system. Great ideas can be shared. I love the idea of having a poster to show what is expected. I think I will use that.

    Your Friend,

    John and Karen