Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Separation vs. Inclusion vs. Integration in Scouting

Two weeks ago when I did my blog about the first Sensory Friendly Cub Scout Pack formed in the Cascade Pacific Council that is dedicated to special needs scouts, we received a question asking asking if the US promotes separate groups for Scouts on the Autistic Spectrum and if we were promoting inclusion and integration.

If you would have asked me two months ago, I would have said having a vast majority of scouts with special needs integrated into typical units would be the ideal.

Now two months later my thoughts have changed a bit.  

When I first thought about doing this blog series, I knew I had an obligation to address the subject because of my new role as Unit Commissioner for the only current officially registered special needs unit in the state of Washington. (Information about our state was given to me today in a phone call with a representative at the National Boy Scout Council in Dallas.) I thought I would address inclusion and integration. But like my pastor who can do a whole sermon on one verse from the bible, I really discovered that there is so much to say about this topic and to do just one blog on the subject would be a great disservice.

I think this will be a great series of blogs and I hope that you enjoy them. These are meant to be thought provoking and bring up topics and subjects that spur conversations in order to make your units better.

Separation vs. Inclusion vs. Integration

Laying the Foundation -

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 -

Laying the Foundation

To lay the foundation for this discussion, it would be helpful for you to understand where my background comes from. We need to have a starting set of questions and then come up with a set of premises. Once we have a starting point, we can then get into the meat of the conversation.

In this blog, I will give you my background, we will come up with the questions and then set the up three premises. So let’s get going.


The vast majority of my experience has been with the Boy Scout of America program with Cub Scouts (youth first grade to fifth grade) and Boy Scouts (boys fifth grade and above). I do have an understanding of the Girl Scouts program as well as the Royal Rangers (youth group based on a scouting model) but the information I will be sharing can be used in almost all scouting programs.

Currently I am a Unit Commissioner for the only special needs unit in the state of Washington and one of three in the Cascade Pacific Council according to the Boy Scouts of America national office. Currently there are 257 special needs units that serve 5,350 youth. The unit that I support is a Cub Scout unit. I am also an Assistant Scoutmaster for a local troop that my oldest son is attached to. In Cub Scouts, I was an Assistant Den Leader for a wolf den for a brand new pack and then a Den Leader while my son was a Bear, Webelos I and II.

I am only one of two Disabilities Awareness Merit Badge Counselors for the district that I am serving. I have provided in person autism awareness and skills training through Autism Empowerment and being a volunteer with the BSA for the Cascade Pacific Council Excellence Training Program. Through Autism Empowerment’s Autism and Scouting Program, I also provide training to other scouting units upon request either in person or via the web. We also provide training materials to teach leaders on how to better programs to scouts who are on the Autism Spectrum and/or who have related conditions such as SPD or ADHD.

I have two sons who are on the Autism Spectrum. My oldest is a Boy Scout and is a Star Scout on his way to Life. He has Aspergers and has been in a typical unit.  My youngest will be a Tiger Scout in June, he has what is described as more classical autism and will be in the Sensory Friendly Special Needs Unit that just started here in Vancouver. Part of the conversation will be why for my oldest a typical unit was the best and why I am convinced that a Special Needs unit will be the best for my youngest.

The Questions

The first question that in my estimation is wrong; How does a scouting program that promotes Inclusion and Integration allow for Separation?

I think the correct question is: How does Separation breed Inclusion with a final outcome of Integration within a scouting program?

The second question should be: Who should be in a special needs unit and who should be in typical unit?

The third question is; How does my unit become more understanding and support the scouts that do have special needs? or How can our unit help other units?

These are the three questions that I will be addressing in my upcoming blogs.


The first premise is that all units are in some way separated. The separation is mainly due to geographic reasons (by country, region, area and neighborhood) and that is reasonable but it is still separation. In the US, there is a separation by gender for some groups (Girl Scouts, American Heritage Girls, Impact Girls, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Royal Rangers). Most scouting programs have separation by age (Daisies, Brownies, Juniors, Boy Scouts, Venture and Cub Scouts, Joeys, Beavers etc...). Some scouting units even have separation within the scouting program. For example, in the US, the Mormon faith have separate LDS units for their boys and girls programs.

The majority of scouting units are more traditional in how they approach scouting (camping, hiking, backpacking, etc) while others separate themselves as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) units where they will focus more of the time on the science behind things. There are even other specialty themed units forming such as Soccer and Scouting.

We are all linked by the ideals of scouting are are part of the whole scouting movement.

The second premise is that the ultimate goal is to provide access to a full inclusion scouting program in which every scout can take part to the best of his or her own personal ability. Since words are very important, lets define inclusion as “The act of including or the state of being included.”  

Inclusion should include the full scouting experience no matter what level of scouting. From the the basic unit programs, to area or regional programs to national and international programs, all should grant full access to all no matter what the scout’s ability.

The final premise is that one of the reasons why parents make the choice to have their son or daughter in scouting is to have them learn lifelong skills that they will be able to transfer into society and allow them to be part of the communities that they belong. Integration can be defined as “an act or instance of combining into an integral whole.”

One of my goals (I think like most) for my boys is to have them learn skills that they will be able to take with them as they integrate into society. All children will have to integrate in some fashion as they transition from grade school to middle school and high school and so on.

I would imagine that almost everyone would want their children to have the ability to integrate into the whole of society or at the very least work towards that goal.

So, you now know where I come from, we have the questions and I hope we can all agree on the premises. We can now start to address and get into the meat of the conversation in the next blog coming soon.

I would love to hear your comments and if you have any thoughts ahead of time, feel free to drop me a line and share your thoughts.

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  1. Hi John,

    I'm glad that you're going to be discussing this. I've found that while my boys had a great time in Cubs, the scouting section is less tolerant of their differences.

    I still feel that inclusion is critical. I've often said about special needs schools that it's usually better to be near the bottom of a main-streamed class than at the top of a special needs "remedial" class. I think scouts is the same.


    There are times when inclusion simply doesn't work. When a child's differences and needs are so great that they have significant impact on the group as a whole.

    In these cases, the freedom that separation provides far outweighs the resentment of inclusion.

    It's a case-by-case decision which cannot be solely based on the abilities of the child. The decision also needs to take into account their personality, the general personality of the group (which changes constantly as new members join and old ones leave) and the personality and abilities of the leaders.

    I look forward to reading your thoughts as you progress through this series.

  2. Although I'd like to see inclusion, I can see how case-by-case makes sense because certain children will need more accommodations than others. But what if you don't live in an area large enough to give you options of where to go or there aren't enough children with special needs to have a separate place for them to thrive? Inclusion or exclusion seem to be the only options in many areas.

  3. Hello Gavin - As always, Love your comments. I am doing a blog now which I hope to post in the next 24 hours. Part 2 of now a 6 part series.

    Anonymous - Thank you so much for your comments as well.
    I will be addressing the concept next how to determine if you should have your scout in a special needs unit.

    Part 5
    How typical units can help bridge the gap

    Part 6
    How can typical units can be more inclusive

    I early on could see that special needs units are very few and far between and with the BSA, mostly IL or east coast. The one that was just started in Washington state is currently the only one in the state. I have some up coming tips for units to be more inclusive when there are no other options.