Saturday, July 23, 2011

Introduction to Disabilities Awareness and support

We hope that the summer is going well and we hope that for those of you who have gone to summer camp it has gone smoothly and for those that will be going we hope that all will go smoothly. 

About a month ago, I was asked by the Autism Society of Southwest Washington to sit on a panel of people talking about activities within the Southwest Washington area for children with Autism.  I was honored to represent the Boy Scouts of America and scouting in general. I asked my District Executive if he would like to attend with me and I was pleased that he accepted.

I had never talked to our District Executive and he was new to position so I was not sure how he would respond to the concept of promotion of the Boy Scouts to groups like the Autism Society whose main membership is comprised of would be scouts with disabilities. The conversation that we had was wonderful and he agreed that more training both on the District and Council level is needed to better integrate those with different abilities.  

Before we started, he pulled out a document talking about Scouts with Disabilities and Special Needs. I had thought I had seen most things put out by the BSA (Boy Scouts of America) on the subject but had never seen this before.  When I asked about the document, he said he could not find much on the subject and he put it together. I was so impressed that he is dedicated to the cause of better training and acceptance for those on the Autism Spectrum and all scouts with disabilities.

If you have not already "liked" the Autism and Scouting page, please do so, we have reached 71 and would like to get to 75 by the end of the month.

Thanks Brian for all of your support and this was re-printed with his permission. He has also given me permission to send it via word document to anybody that would like this. If you would like this to share with your leadership, please let me know and I will be more than happy to send a word document version to you.
If you would like a copy you can leave a message on the Autism and Scouting Facebook Page or e-mail me at   

To follow is the document that he had put together.

Scouts with Disabilities and Special Needs


Since its founding in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has had fully participating members with physical, mental and emotional disabilities. James E. West, the first Chief Scout Executive, was a person with a disability. Although most of the BSA’s efforts have been directed at keeping such boys in the mainstream of Scouting, it has also recognized the special needs of those with severe disabilities.

The Boy Scout Handbook has had Braille editions for many years; merit badge pamphlets has been recorded on cassette tapes for the blind; and closed-caption training videos have been produced for those who are deaf. In 1965, registration of over-age Scouts with mental disabilities became possible – a privilege now extended to many people with disabilities.

Recognition of Needs

The basic premise of Scouting for youth with disabilities and special needs is that they want most to participate like other youth – and Scouting gives them that opportunity. Thus, much of the program for Scouts with disabilities and special needs is directed at (1) helping unit leaders develop an awareness of disabled people among youth without disabilities and (2) encouraging the inclusion of Scouts with disabilities and special needs in Cub Scout packs, Boy Scouts troops, Varsity Scout teams, Venturing crews, and Sea Scout Ships.

There are many units, however, composed of members with similar disabilities or special needs – such as an all-sight-impaired Boy Scout troop, or an all-hearing-impaired Cub Scout Pack – but these members are encouraged to participate in Scouting activities at the district, council, area, regional and national levels along with other youth. Many of these special Scouting units are located in special schools or centers that make the Scouting program part of their curriculum.

Many of the more than 300 BSA local councils have established their own advisory committees for youth with disabilities and special needs. These committees develop and coordinate an effective Scouting program for youth with disabilities and special needs, using all available community resources. Local councils also are encouraged to provide accessibility in their camps by removing physical barriers so that youth with disabilities and special needs can participate in weekend and summer resident camp experiences. Some local council’s also have professional staff members responsible for the program for members with disabilities.


Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scouts and Ventures with disabilities and special needs participate in the same program as do their peers.

The BSA’s policy has always been to treat members with disabilities and special needs as much like other members as possible, but a local council may make some accommodations in advancement requirements if necessary. A Scout with a permanent physical or mental disability may select an alternate merit badge in lieu of a required merit badge if his disabling condition prohibits the Scout from completing the necessary requirements of a particular required badge. This substitute should provide a similar learning experience.  Full guidelines and explanations are available through the local council and on the Application for Alternative Eagle Scout Rank Merit Badges, No. 58-730. The local council advancement committee must approve the application.  A Scout may not request changes in the Tenderfoot, Second Class and First Class ranks. The procedures are described in the Boy Scout Requirement book, No. 33215.

The policy is designed to keep youth with disabilities and special needs as much in the mainstream as possible. Practical suggestions are made to leaders as to approaches and methods they can use. Thus, a youth in a wheelchair can meet the requirements for hiking by making a trip to places of interest in his community. Giving more time and permitting the use of special aids are other ways leaders can help youth with disabilities and special needs in their efforts to advance. The unit leader plays a crucial role in that effort.

Program Developments

BSA local councils have formed cooperative relationships with agencies, school districts and other organizations in serving disabled people.  Many of these organizations have played a part in the development of literature, audiovisual aids and media in Braille for Scouts with Disabilities and their leaders.

Each year, the BSA presents the national Woods Service Award to an adult in Scouting who has demonstrated exceptional service and leadership in the field of Scouting and disabled people (given by the Woods Service in Langhorne, Pennsylvania). The Woods Service Award is the highest recognition awarded by the BSA in the area of service. The Torch of Gold Award is available for similar presentation by local councils.

Other national support projects include materials relating to disabled and special needs people in the National Camping School syllabi as well as production of special manuals on Scouting for youth with emotional disabilities, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, visual impairments and mental disabilities and those who are deaf. A weeklong training course for people working with youth with disabilities is offered each summer at the Philmont Training Center.

In August 1977, the first handicap awareness trail was incorporated into the program for the national Scout Jamboree at Moraine State Park in Pennsylvania. More than 5,000 Scouts participated. Since then, many local councils have created their own awareness trails, designed to make nondisabled people aware of the many problems faced by people with disabilities and special needs. Recent, Scout jamborees have continued this tradition.  Some local councils hold handicamporees that feature camping and outdoor activities for youth with disabilities.

An interpreter stripe for Signing for the Deaf can be earned by all Scouts.

Requirements and pamphlet for a Disabilities Awareness merit badge are designed to help many thousands of America’s youth develop a positive attitude toward individuals with disabilities and special needs. This attitude, based on study and personal involvement of people with disabilities, creates an excellent foundation for acceptance, mainstreaming and normalization of those with disabled.  The learning experiences provided by working toward the Disabilities Awareness merit badge help produce changes in the attitudes of America’s youth as they pursue new experiences and then share their new knowledge with friends.

For more information please contact:
(The balance of the page is contact information)
James E. West 

End Document

A special thank you to Brian Blachly our District Executive who really gets it and is a wonderful leader!

Please leave your comments and ideas for future blogs. 

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Order of the Arrow and Autism

Hello! I hope all are having a good camping season so far. June was a very busy month and now that July is upon us, camping season is in full swing here in the US.

In the past month the Facebook page, Autism and Scouting hit 63 likes and the Autism and Scouting Group page now has 134 likes. The goal is for the Facebook Page to reach 75 "likes" before the end of July. Any help in spreading the word would be very welcome. The more people we have visiting and exchanging ideas, the greater breadth of knowledge that can drawn upon to provide the very best situation for all scouts and scout families.

About two weeks ago while I was away, a friend in Australia posted a link to a blog that he had come across in which the author had concerns about a program that is associated with the Boy Scouts of America called the Order of the Arrow and how it related to her son who has Autism that had not yet been chosen for this honor. Here is a link to her blog:  Do Not Sell My Son Short

The post was very thoughtfully written. It generated a lot of comments and brought up related subjects about fitting in, popularity and acceptance within Boy Scouts.

History of Order of the Arrow

The Order of the Arrow was established in 1915 in Philadelphia, PA by Dr. E. Urner Goodman and Carroll A. Edson. In 1922 the Boy Scouts of America made it an official experiment and it was approved as an official scouting program in 1934. In 1948, the Order of the Arrow was recognized as the BSA's national brotherhood of honor campers. In 1998, the Order of the Arrow became recognized as Scouting's National Honor Society when it expanded its reach beyond camping to include broader service to Scouting and the community.

Purpose of Order of the Arrow

As Scouting’s National Honor Society, the purpose is to: 
  • Recognize those who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives and through that recognition cause others to conduct themselves in a way that warrants similar recognition.
  • Promote camping, responsible outdoor adventure, and environmental stewardship as essential components of every Scout’s experience, in the unit, year-round, and in summer camp.
  • Develop leaders with the willingness, character, spirit and ability to advance the activities of their units, our Brotherhood, Scouting, and ultimately our nation.
  • Crystallize the Scout habit of helpfulness into a life purpose of leadership in cheerful service to others.
Requirements for Order of the Arrow

1.– Be a registered member of the Boy Scouts of America.

2. – Have fifteen nights of camping within the past two years. Of the fifteen nights, six nights must come from long-term camp consisting of six consecutive days and five nights of resident camping.

3. – Be a First Class or higher in rank.

4. – The scout must be elected in a special annual election by 50% or greater of the voting scouts present at the meeting.  A majority of the troop members need to be present for this election to take place.

If you take a look at the first three requirements, they do make sense. Being a member of the Boy Scouts of America is obvious. Since Boy Scouts as a group are dedicated towards camping and the outdoors, the camping nights requirement is important and shows a scout's dedication.  Once a scout reaches the level of First Class, he has had experience with many scouting skills and should have a decent understanding of what it means to be part of the Order of the Arrow.

The fourth requirement is the one where things start to get tricky and brings about questions about popularity, acceptance and potential rejection.  This requirement deals with the selection and voting process and is where the blog I referenced above (Do Not Sell My Son Short) took issue.

The selection process is unlike any of the other requirements for advancements and awards within Boy Scouting.  For rank advancements, the Boy Scouts of America have very specific requirements that all scouts have to complete in order to move forward from Scout to Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and even Eagle. If a scout completes each requirement and passes the Board of Review, he advances.  For merit badges, if the scout follows the requirements and completes them, he will be awarded the merit badge.  For all of the other awards, specific requirements are spelled out.

Elections do take place for Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders but these are considered leadership positions and they do rotate every six months.

The Order of the Arrow and its subsequent membership is the only award or honor that is elected in scouting.

Is this fair to those who may not seem to fit in but have met all of the other requirements? If a scout with Autism or Aspergers (or any other disability) does not relate to his peers but meets all of the other requirements, is it fair that they are not selected by their peers for this honor? Does this promote exclusion versus inclusion?  Is it a popularity contest where only the ones that are liked most get selected?

On first glance it does seem on the face of things that those who are popular would have an advantage being elected and that those boys that have challenges with social skills and peer relations might be at a disadvantage getting elected by a majority of his peers.  That being said, once you take a closer look at what it takes to qualify for Order of the Arrow selection, there are many chances for a scout to learn some life lessons and learn how to better relate to those around him.

In order to get to the point of being placed on the ballot, each scout must have one summer resident camp as well as ten additional camping nights with the troop. This gives the scout a chance to get to know the members of his patrol as well as other members of the troop.

In addition, the scout has to have achieved the rank of First Class Scout. In most troops and scouting outfits, the scout would have to be in the troop for over two years (unless transferring in from another troop). This again should give the scout time to get to know his troop mates and try to bond with them.

Bonding and learning how to relate to others within the troop is a skill that often takes more time for a scout with autism. Achieving scouting advancement and honors doesn't have to be a sprint.  Your scout doesn't need to compare himself to his peers.  He should determine his own goals and work on them in his own time.  It can be a slow jog or walk.  It can be a marathon.  It can be a 100 yard dash.  It really depends on the scout, his abilities, his personal situation and his goals. 

If the scout and scout's family know about the Order of the Arrow program in advance and have an understanding of what the requirements are going in, it will give the family a chance to work with their scout, his patrol mates and leaders to help improve the social skills if becoming part of the brotherhood is important to him.  

Just like so many other things in the life of a person with Autism, having transition and understanding what this process is will give both the families and scouts the ability to understand what needs to be done. Then a plan can be put to together that will help the scout obtain success. Going to the scoutmaster ahead of time with concerns would be a helpful thing as well because it could bring to the attention of the Scoutmaster a situation that could benefit the whole unit. The Scoutmaster might be willing to help the scout to better integrate within the unit or at the very least have an older scout buddy with him to help the scout in need try to better relate to his peers.  

If you are a Scoutmaster or any part of leadership it is important that things are explained to the Troop in advance of vote. Explain that each scout can vote for as many people as he would like and the vote should not be based on popularity but rather if the scout is representing scouting traditions and values.  The scouts that should be voted in should be voted for because they are maintaining camping traditions and spirit, promoting year-round and long term resident camping, and providing cheerful service to others. The Scoutmaster should never try to influence the vote one way or the other and needs to check any favoritism at the door.

Like in life, things may not seem fair but if you look at the whole picture and try to find the positive things, you will find that you have made lemonade vs. lemons.

I would love to say that all scouting units are accepting and live by the Scout Oath and Law but I have learned early on that is not always the case. I have been in contact with scouts and families that have run into Scout leaders that don’t know how to work with kids with special needs and I've heard about units that don’t take action with bullying scouts (future blogs).

If things do not work out with the election of your son to the Order of the Arrow, use it as a teaching tool for all. Work with the leadership and work with the scout for that next election. A good leadership team what’s to see all of the scouts be successful. If things are really bad in your unit then it should be considered to move to a different unit.

The Order of the Arrow is a big honor and is an honorable unit within scouting. It may take some extra work for those on the spectrum but it is something that each scout should be encouraged to aspire to.  That being said, being in the Order of the Arrow does not determine a scout's worth, just as his diagnosis of autism does not define him.  Your unconditional love and support of your scout throughout his scouting years will play a key part in his success and happiness. 

Happy Scouting