In part one (Separation vs. Inclusion vs. Integration in Scouting), I looked at laying the foundation to frame the conversation. I gave my background and came up with three questions that will be addressed in this series of blogs and it ended with three premises. As a very quick review:
How does Separation breed Inclusion with a final outcome of Integration within a scouting program?
Who should be in a special needs unit and who should be in typical unit?
How does my unit become more understanding and support the scouts that do have special needs? or How can our unit help other units?
The first premise is that all units are in some way separated.
The second premise is that the ultimate goal is to provide access to a full inclusion scouting program.
The third premise is that we choose scouting to help our children build lifelong skills to help prepare them for the future.
Laying the Foundation - Part 1
Should my scout be in a separate unit?
Separation does not mean exclusion -
Separation can lead to integration -
How typical units can help bridge the gap -
How can typical units can be more inclusive -
We have put together a series of questions that we hope you will find helpful in trying to determine if a traditional unit is best for your scout or a special needs unit would be best. If you are lucky enough to have a specialized unit in your area, then you can make that determination which kind of unit is best for your scout. If you don’t have a specialized unit in your area, I will address these questions in part 5 and part 6 in this series of blogs.
1 - What are the sensory issues, educational issues, communication issues and physical issues? The parents and caregivers know the scout the best. Make a realistic list of all of the strengths and weaknesses. You will need to sit down with the leadership of any unit and go over both lists with them. Any unit that you go into will need to know what is going on with your scout. Autism and Scouting has put together a Sensory Form for Scouting units to use in order to work with scouts with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder but can be used with any special need. We will be more than happy to send you the form upon request for free. You can either leave a note on the facebook page or e-mail us.
2 - Is your scout is in a traditional school setting and if so, how are they doing in that setting? Scouting can be in some ways like school and in some ways can provide you a glimpse about how your scouts might do socially and academically. If they are in a traditional classroom with or without support and they are adjusted and progressing well without much delay then you should take that into consideration when looking at what type of scouting unit would be best suited for your scout. If they are struggling, having sensory issues, concentration issues or any other issue that is impeding their progress then that should be considered as well.
3 - Does the leadership know and understand the special needs of your scout? This means they are not just giving lip service and saying “yes, I get it and we will take care of them”. Retention has been a challenge for many scouting units in the US and many times units want to get the numbers to see who will stick.
It is strongly recommended that you have a meeting with the unit leader and if the unit has some type of committee that the leader is also included in the meeting. For Cub Scouts, Joey and Beavers having the Den Leader in the meeting is important as well. In the meeting let them know about your scout’s strengths and weaknesses. The unit should be aware of any sensory issues and at the meeting, you should bring along a completed Autism and Scouting Sensory Form to let the leaders know what the issue will be.
This is a meeting where you should be interviewing the leaders to see if this will be a fit for your scout as well as your family. Scouting doesn’t just include the scout, it can and should be a family experience.
Most units will be more than willing to add new kids who have special challenges but sometimes the leadership in a traditional unit is not prepared to work with a scout on the Autism Spectrum or one that has Sensory Processing issues. In some cases leadership will seem reluctant to add scouts with special needs because they have no experience or understanding on what Autism and are either fearful or unwilling to reach outside themselves to expand their knowledge.
4 - Has the leadership worked with scouts either in the present or the past that have similar conditions as your scout? As every scout on the Autism Spectrum is unique, if the leader has worked with somebody with co-conditions and sensory issues near to what your scout has, they will have a better understanding what it takes to work with scouts with Autism, Sensory Processing Disorders or related conditions.
This is not to say that you should eliminate a traditional unit just because they have not worked with scouts with Autism in the past. I would say the vast majority of leaders would be willing help as best they can the scouts under their care, especially if you come in with a positive attitude and a willingness to assist and help educate about your son or daughter.
5 - What kind of resources does the leadership have available in order to best service your scout? You should look for a unit that can work with you and your scout to give them the best possible accommodations or be willing to work on putting into place accommodations or an action plan to best have the support the scout. Is the unit willing to have a recovery room or a place the scout can go to take a break if needed? Is your unit willing to put in place alternate rank requirements if your scout is unable to complete the ones that are spelled out in their advancement manual? How flexible is the unit leadership in working with the scout.
In some cases the unit will not be able to meet the needs or special accommodations that the scout requires. In some cases they will want to, they will just need to have extra training and resources in this area.
6 - Does your son or daughter have an IEP (Individual Education Plan or eqivalent) and what is in it to provide them support? Many schools try to take care of their students that have special needs and use an IEP. In the IEP, it should spell out all of the different accommodations that the student needs and that the school will be providing to support the further education of the student. Some of these techniques might be able to transferred into the scouting arena.
If you feel comfortable with the leadership, share what is working for your scout in the school setting. There might be a chance that the same techniques might be employed. Please note that if you are seeking different requirements within the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), you will need to provide a medical record as well as any school documentation (including the IEP if the scout has one). Leadership in a Special Needs unit are there because they are dedicated to serving those scouts that might not be as successful in a more traditional unit and it would be strongly recommended that you provide them as much information as possible.
It will all boil down to if you think your scout will thrive more in a different needs (Special Needs Unit) or a more traditional unit. Some scouts may be best served by a traditional unit, however if they are in early elementary school and may already be behind socially, you may find in the beginning that a special needs unit with more one-on-one attention will be a better fit.