Justin is normally pretty quiet at these meetings and generally sits and takes things all in. During the meeting while all the leaders and assistants were preparing for this month’s meetings, Justin was assigned to come up with the skills instruction and the interpatrol activity (game). At the time it really did not sink in about what needed to be done and so he gladly accepted the responsibility. He was going to have two weeks to prepare because they were off a week for Halloween.
A few days later, he was in panic mode. What did he get himself into? Why am I the Patrol Leader? These were some thoughts of “I can’t do this” and “I never wanted to do this or be Patrol Leader”. After the last very successful outing in which his patrol did an outstanding job, all of that was wiped away and self-doubt and lack of confidence was the new norm.
I was told when I first became an Assistant Scoutmaster that it was more than likely that the scouts would experience challenges and failures early on and that it would be okay since leadership is a learning and growth process. To many who have Aspergers (not all since every scout is different) any type of failure can be devastating even when they are told that it is okay to fail. For Justin, at this point he froze and could not even start the planning process. To him failure looked like the only thing that he could see when it came to this task he had been assigned.
I had offered from the onset to sit down with him and work it out together to provide the support, but at the time, the fear was just too great in his mind. He shut down and said he needed a break. Respecting that and trying to give him the time he needed, the first day passed by, then the second day, then the next and the next. It was much easier to retreat to his special interest of computers. Funny thing is that his special interest (computers) would cycle back to play a big role in increasing his self-confidence and opportunity for success but I had not seen it at the time. The whole thing was a good refresher for me as well regarding how I can better assist him and other scouts in similar situations during these hard times.
He was told at the PLC meeting to send the information and concept for the planned skills and game to the Assistant Senior Patrol Leader by the end of Friday (the 4th of November). By this point, it was already Thursday, November 3rd at dinner time and the information had not yet been completed. Getting started on big and even small projects while trying to get his thoughts and self organized has been a challenge at times when it came to schoolwork. Here in a different setting, we noticed the same challenges creeping in and the fear was in a sense paralyzing him and not giving him the chance to start. My wife who also happens to have Asperger’s compares it to the writer’s block she often experiences. Often it isn’t the project that is that difficult. It is the beginning and getting that first perfect word on paper without editing and re-editing. It’s breaking through the brainstorm and getting the ideas to pour out on paper or verbally. In this particular case with our son, the whole situation was amplified to an extreme level.
Not only was he having the challenges organizing his thoughts to start the project but it was compounded by fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear that I would be disappointed and all of the negative emotions that a twelve year old could possibly have.
One of the tips I had given at the Autism and Scouting leadership training I gave at the Cascade Pacific Council’s Program and Training Conference this past week was that sometimes the leader/parent needs to step back and allow somebody else to come in and get a fresh look when dealing with your own scout when a meltdown or shutdown (in this case) happens. So my wife Karen stepped in and talked to Justin.
They had a very good talk (private) and then they came back to me and Justin was ready to roll up his sleeves and take on the task at hand.
Working backwards, he wanted to get the game down first and then work on the how the skills instruction would work to support the game. Justin quickly came up with the idea of having the scouts in patrols go around to stations to help identify and treat a particular injury. Next the challenge was how to create a game where the scouts would learn but still have fun in the process.
The scouts can only do so many games based on a Jeopardy theme before one gets Jeopardy burnout (Justin’s thoughts). He wanted the game to be interactive and fun.
So as Justin was working on the details, Karen and I were talking about a show our family watches together called Amazing Race and one of us said, “it would be funny to give the scouts a roadblock”. A roadblock on the show is a task that one of the pair has to do in order to receive their team’s next clue.
During skills instruction the following Monday, the troop assembled into their respective patrols. Justin along with the help of the Assistant Senior Patrol Leader (ASPL) found enough scouts to do the training and that portion was very easy.
“Being in charge” of putting this portion of the meeting together, Justin was happy to “supervise”. The trainers had a variety of First Aid skills that they were supposed to cover. At the bare minimum, they needed to cover the seven skills that were going to be part of the Amazing Injury game.
Skills instruction ended and the patrols broke into patrol meeting time. During this time, Justin needed to recruit “injured” people (he recruited most from within his patrol). He had to find somebody who could show signs of choking, heat exhaustion, hypothermia, serious bleeding (forgot to bring the fake blood), a broken or sprained ankle, a broken arm and shock.
Justin then positioned each injured person around the room as the rest of the troop was receiving instructions. At each station, the patrol would have to identify the injury (with the injured person improving but not saying anything) and then once they got it right, they would have to treat the person. If they identified the injury correctly and properly treated the person, they would get a ticket and they could go to the next station.
The first patrol to successfully complete all 7 stations would win a jumbo bag of Doritos that the patrol could share. (Never underestimate the incentive power of a bag of Doritos among a group of teens and pre-teens.)
It was fun seeing the boys treating the broken arm and ankle with their neckerchiefs, however it seemed, the person with the severe bleeding seemed to be get beaten up a bit much from putting pressure on his wound. The boys were having a ton of fun.
I had one parent come up to me and say how impressive the game was (he had not known that Justin had put it together)and how this was the kind of game that teaches but at the same time entertains. Justin overheard that and you could see the pride on his face from putting together a quality game.
During the game he did a great job leading it and supervising by walking among the stations making sure that injured people were really being treated. The previous negative self-talk questions like “what did he get himself into?” and “why am I the Patrol Leader?” had vanished and replaced with additional confidence from a challenge accomplished.
1. Use of positive encouragement and words is important for all scouts but it is really needed for those scouts on the Autism Spectrum.
2. Taking a step back and finding out what the root cause of an issue is may result in a quicker solution or more positive outcome. What is the scout thinking or feeling?
3. If you can incorporate the scout’s special interest (in this case computers and graphic design) into scouting projects and tasks, try to do so whenever you can. Being in a more comfortable zone often helps produce better results and a happier scout.
4. Setbacks and failure are okay from time to time. We all had to fall on our bottoms many times when we learned to walk. The same holds true in many areas throughout life. But make sure you monitor the emotions and feelings of those that are having the setback or failure and let them know that you are there to listen, encourage and support. Negative experiences, especially to people who may have a tendency to be very hard on themselves can lead to real depression and that is not healthy for anybody especially those with an ASD.
5. Scouts really like to play games with prizes. Guys like food prizes. : )
6. Scouting is a great way scouts can learn leadership and can excel.
I again want o thank Justin for allowing me to share this story. If you would like to share a story, please e-mail me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Let me know if it is okay to post it on our Autism and Scouting Blog or Autism Empowerment website and if so, if you want us to edit out any information.
Accept the scouts for who they are and where they are! Enrich their lives by showing encouragement. Inspire them to “Do their best” that they can possibly be. (In this case, Justin inspired me along the way) and Empower them by giving them the tools and support to build self-sufficiency and confidence.
Autism Empowerment - http://www.autismempowerment.org
Autism Empowerment Facebook Page - http://www.facebook.com/autismempowerment
Autism and Scouting Facebook Page - http://www.facebook.com/autismandscouting