Thursday, February 9, 2012

Separation does not mean Exclusion

Separation does not mean Exclusion
Welcome back to part three of a six part collection of blogs to talk about a subject that is rarely talked about in scouting. Are Special Needs Units equal to traditional units, the positive as well as the negative aspect of special needs units and How does Separation breed Inclusion with a final outcome of Integration within a scouting program.

So far in part one we laid the foundational starting points and then in the last blog we explored the questions a caregiver should take into consideration when making the choice between a traditional unit and a more specialized unit for their son or daughter.

In this blog we will see that for units that are specialized, it doesn’t equal exclusion or in any way make these units any less worthy; in fact they may be a better model for a scouting unit to lead to full integration.

Separation vs. Inclusion vs. Integration

Laying the Foundation -  Part 1

Should my scout be in a separate unit?  Part 2

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 -

To start, we need to define what Separation means and what Exclusion means.

Separation = the act or process of separating : the state of being separated
Exclusion = the state of being excluded

Separation and Exclusion already happens

Our family had moved from San Jose, CA to Vancouver, WA in the summer of 2007 and at the beginning of our son’s 3rd grade, we got our oldest son into a Cub Scout Pack that was based out of the local school. My experience in California the prior year was as an assistant Den Leader to a den and pack that was brand new. At that time, I was extremely green = not much scouting under my belt at all at that point. I moved into the new Pack in Vancouver as one of two assistant den leaders of a pack of 12 boys. A month into the new scouting year (at that point only 1 meeting had taken place), the Den Leader had to step down and the den was broken into two dens. The other experienced den leader took all the established boys and I took my son and all of the new scouts. I was a deer in the headlights to say the best.

It was a very rocky start, I really had nothing except a copy of my son’s Bear Book and a pat on back. I did see the other den leaders at least twice a month at Committee Meetings and Pack Meetings but they all had their own agendas and dens to manage and with the exception of Pack business, we never talked about how to make a better den or unit, never saw the Cubmaster at any of our meetings and I did not even know what a Unit Commissioner was until two months ago. I was told I would do fine and could do what I wanted. Like a baby chick, I was kicked out of the nest from a 100 foot tree. I did flap my wings and that first year I barely missed bouncing off the pavement and becoming road kill.  

If it was not for a bit of luck, my persistence on doing joint den activities and making sure that I showed up to committee meetings, I am not sure if I would have made it through that first year or anybody would have made it to Boy Scouts from my den two and half years later. I was in the state of being separated and for sure was feeling excluded and yet our den was “part” of a well established “typical” Pack that had been around for a long time. From what I have gathered in talking to many others, this is not uncommon within the context of the Cub Scout Program within the US.

So separation and exclusion can happen in typical units and it can lead to portions of the unit being excluded from an event or activity.

Typically in the history of the United States when a group of people used the argument that separate is also equal, it tends to wind up that the group making that claim is trying to exclude another group. Most of the racial and gender issues have been decided by the courts and the nation is on the correct path to a society with more inclusion rather than exclusion when it comes to racial and gender issues.  

For those with disabilities, the road has been much longer and many still face separation, isolation and exclusion. For those that are on the Autism Spectrum or who have Sensory Processing Disorders, the roads to acceptance, understanding, support and inclusion have been barely been put on the map and even then, seem to face regular detours.  

Exclusion - The Ugly Truth

The lack of understanding, apathy and in some cases discrimination in many cases has left a chasm between typically developing youth and those with disabilities. I would love to say that Scouting is different and all the leaders understand and support all of the scouts in all of the different needs they might have. I’d love to say that all scouts support other scouts no matter what they do or who they are. I’d love to say that other parents get along and don’t make judgments of other scouts and parents. Although I’d love to say these things, I can’t. That being said, I really DO think that the vast majority of scout leaders who are volunteering their time are in it for the correct reason and do try. The vast majority of scouts are accepting most of the time or really are too into their world to really notice (especially the younger Cubs, Beavers, Joeys , Brownie’s). The parents... well, that can be a different story.

Leaders should Lead

With that being said, I have heard from parents too many times that tell me, this leader just doesn’t get it or is not supportive. I have even personally seen the ugly face of discrimination from “leaders” that are uncomfortable with scouts with different abilities and unwilling in their “leadership” position to step outside of themselves to really live by the scout law and oath.

For them it seems that helpful, friend, courteous, kind, brave, clean and that “On my Honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my county and to obey the scout Law” (which they are clearly not doing) and to help other people at all times is only for those scouts that are like them and not always for those they don’t understand.

For them, taking the opportunity to educate themselves or their unit is too much trouble. These “leaders” only see the disabilities as a potential inconvenience or disruption to their group. They don’t see the young man or lady trying to be a part of the unit and his or her potential.  Real leaders don’t let the challenges and struggles define the scout, they see the scouts as human beings deserving of a scouting experience that just happen to have different abilities.

Now I don’t want to get down on leaders in general for truly, most of the men and women that volunteer that I come across really try to have the best interests of all scouts in mind.  I often hear from real leaders or parents that want to help but just don’t know what to do because there is no organized training with the exception of a training course here or there that they might stumble upon. These are the scouters that embody the scouting spirit of Doing your Best and Being Prepared as well as the Scout Oath and Law. These leaders should be recognized for all they do and for all of the effort they put in to serve all and doing their good turn. The basic tenets and principles of Scouting is sound.  If the parents and leaders that deviate from that is where the wheels fall off the train.

I hear about bullying that leaders don’t know how to stop or are unwilling to stop. I would hope that it is more of they are unable to stop the bullying and a matter of education rather than an unwillingness to stop it. It’s true that oftentimes bullying takes place in a sneaky way where adults are not around to witness it and that does make for a difficult challenge, especially if a bully happens to be the son or daughter of a leader or respected adult in the pack.  It’s also true that some bullies don’t realize they are bullying but that doesn’t make it acceptable. I have heard reports of various types of bullying from all over the world. Having parents step up to these leaders and letting them know that this kind of behavior is unacceptable is a great way to advocate for your scouts. Education is power in many cases and regular awareness training for children and adults is important.

On top of all of that, I hear of stories from parents and caregivers how cruel and mean other “adults” can be (both leaders and parents). “How come you can not control your child”, “you should try some discipline”, “the parents are just coddling the scout”, “this is scouts, the scout needs to take care of themselves” are just some of the comments that have been reported from adults about adults and that is not to mention the looks and pointing.

When in reality these parents and “leaders” have not taken the time to lead by getting to understand what their scouts need and it is a neurological and often sensory response (medical) and not a discipline or behavioral issue (bad parenting) most times. Some leaders don’t even know the medical conditions of the scouts they are supposed to be leading. How can one be an effective leader if you don’t know how to lead a scout?  “This is not daycare” as they pull away leaving their scout with the unit for the next hour or hour and half.  

Part of the problem may be that some parents feel pressured into volunteering or they’re leading for the wrong reasons. “It isn’t what I signed up for.”  That being said, it’s not an excuse for intolerance, ignorance or laziness. It’s okay to say that something is difficult or outside one’s comfort zone and seek help and additional training. It’s not okay to be apathetic and then blame it on the scout or his parents when they are just trying to provide what they believed was an honorable, character building opportunity for their child.

I even once had a leader tell me, “I can’t have these scouts in my unit. I have to think about all of the other parents and scouts”. (“These” scouts? Like they’re second class citizens? Really?) I guess he really was not living by the standards set by some of the founders of the scouting movement. If he would, he would recall that Robert Baden-Powell say scouting as something that should be for all and not an exclusive club just for a few.  Yes, unit leaders need to consider all of the scouts and not do the lazy way out of things. They should educate themselves and use this as a teaching moment for all to really live by the Oaths, Laws and Codes they profess to live by.

“Scouting helps them by associating them in a world-wide brotherhood, by giving them something to do and to look forward to, by giving them an opportunity to prove to themselves and to others that they can do things – and difficult things too – for themselves.” Robert Baden-Powell

Scouting was NEVER meant to exclude a scout based on ability, but with the lack of education these leaders choose not to seek, opens the door for those scouts who could reap the greatest benefits to learn life skills and how to better relate to others left by the roadside.

It is no wonder why parents of these scouts pull their children out of scouting. It’s a shame because then all of the life skills and social interactions that scouting has the potential to bring is lost to those who may need an opportunity like this the most. The lack of education or choice to come from a position of elitism by these parents and leaders on what is going on leads to parents of children who have special challenges feeling demoralized and depressed.

This obviously is not the case in all units nor do I want my blog readers to think that it is. I have many stories of amazing people stepping up to do their best and quite frankly, I would suspect (or at least hope) that most parents and potential leaders would have their heart in the right place even if they may not start out with all the training that would be useful. Many units have amazing leadership and are very welcoming and understanding and even screen the leaders to make sure they are willing to go the extra mile and welcome all scouts. Many units try their best to educate the parents and those units are to be commended and be recognized for the true spirit of scouting. They take the time to understand what is going on with the scouts they are leading.

Through Autism and Scouting we hope to help provide training and support and foster an “Accept, Enrich, Inspire, Empower” mentality and culture among leaders and parents that ties right in with the motto and mission of scouting.

Separation can be Inclusive

Units that have unique abilities will allow some to experience all what the scouting movement has to offer. For those units that are designated special needs units, having a unit that is separate does not mean that they should exclude the scouts from activities that typical units participate in. In many cases these units, although they may have some modifications have a great chance to help foster a tremendous amount of growth in each scout.

For the younger scouts, it’s good to try and do the same things a typical unit would but with modification that puts the youth first and doesn’t let the disabilities define them. For example, in Cub Scout Pack 2, a Sensory-Friendly pack that I volunteer with here in Vancouver, we use picture schedules, have a sensory room, have shorter meetings and more structured activities but we still give the boys a rich scouting experience.

In the US, for Cubs Scouts, they have Pinewood Derbies, Raingutter Regattas, Space Derbies, do community service, go to the fire station and police stations, go on hikes and even plan a unit campout or two. Let them grow as scouts first, let them interact with other scouts, let them do their best and make sure that they HAVE FUN!  Scouting should be FUN! Challenge them like you would any other scouts but don’t make it high pressure. For scouts outside of the US (Beavers, Joeys and the like) make sure they take part in typical outings and celebrations.

For Boy Scouts and Venture Scouts let them go on campouts, hikes, take trips if they can and go to summer camp. Allow them to do what they can to the best of their abilities and when needed work with them and the parents to find alternatives that would meet the needed requirements. Let them build relationships and let their light shine. Certainly expect the unexpected but don’t be afraid to raise the bar with your expectations because there are times when you may find your scout pole vaulting over where you thought he or she might be.

For Girl Scouts, like the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, don’t restrict them or hold them back. Let them try new things and open up their world and most of all let them do what they do best, sell cookies. (That was a joke! My wife who has Asperger’s was a girl scout and that was always her favorite thing to do. She always knew which houses would buy the case of Thin Mints!!)

Set expectations for the leaders, youth and parents. The leaders should know that each youth should be treated with respect and given a chance to reach their highest potential. Treat each scout as a scout first and then work with them on where they have challenges. In many cases, a parent or caregiver should play an active role within the unit functions. Leaders are really made because they seek out ways to overcome challenges rather than sweep them under the rug.  It’s also good to find training that can be an asset to the whole unit and feel free to create a support group for parents and leaders to work together and brainstorm the best ways to help the scouts be more successful.

Build partnerships with other Packs and Troops in the area that you serve. Many times these units will act as buddy units. One amazing program that the Three Rivers Council in St. Charles, Illinois has is called the Champion Buddy Unit Program that was developed by Joe Harrington and the TFC Special Needs Committee. This is where they pair up Special Needs units with typical units and it allows both groups to thrive and have a full scouting experience. Here is a link - Three Rivers Champion Buddy Program.  Relationships like this benefit all scouts involved and often the leaders and even the parents behind the scenes begin to show more acceptance and understanding too. In many cases it may even leave a longer lasting impression of inclusion and diversity to those scouts that are more typical (whatever that really is).

Another way to partner with local units is to have a local Troop provide Den Chiefs for the Cub Scout Dens. This allows a closer partnership with other units, provides the Den Chiefs the chance to work with scouts with different skills and the scouts to have mentors that are closer in peer age. Troops can also provide volunteers to other troops’ this will again expose the youth from the typical troop to other scouts that they can also mentor as peers. Life skills can be learned by both and lead to a more inclusive attitude for all.

Provide the needed accommodations whether it be sensory needs, physical or other special challenges. Keep communication open, accepting and accessible. If you provide the tools for success, then it will allow access. The goal is success with fun along the way. Success may be a rank advancement, a badge, a new friend, a memory or may just be a smile. In the end, providing for a better quality of life is what we should strive for all of the scouts no matter who they are, where they are. Even a brief ray of sunshine in which the scouts can let their lights shine is a powerful example of what scouting should be all about.

Building a Bridge from Separation via Inclusion
can lead to Integration

How can we build a bridge and open up the wonderful world of scouting to those who can often benefit from it the most? First, start with whatever the core values of your scouting program are. Most units around the world follow some basic tenets or promote values such as but not limited to: respect, duty, honor, being friendly and doing one’s best.

In part 4, we will tackle Separation can lead to Integration.

I will give you a hint, I have already touched on it already.

Accept, Enrich, Inspire, Empower!

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