Thursday, March 1, 2012

Separation can lead to integration

Separation vs. Inclusion vs. Integration

Welcome back to Part 4 of our blog series about Separation vs. Inclusion vs. Integration as it pertains to choosing an appropriate scouting program for your son or daughter.

So far we have laid down some starting points, then we looked at if and when a scout should seek to be part of a special needs unit (if available) and then we looked at how separation does not always mean exclusion. Today we will be looking at how Separation can lead to Integration.  Here are the links to the first three parts.

Separation can lead to integration

How typical units can help bridge the gap -

How can typical units can be more inclusive -

Special needs units do have a valuable place in whatever scouting program that your youth will take part in. They can provide an inclusive environment and/or can provide a bridge of transition into a typical unit. We will look first at how these units can provide a full inclusive scouting experience and allow scouts to be have fun, earn achievements and make friends. After that, we will look to see how special needs units can prepare youth in some cases for more typical units (especially for the transition programs for 1st - 5th graders to move into programs that serve from 5th grade and older.)  

Now that we are on the same page we need to define integration.

integration =  an act or instance of combining into an integral whole.

Special Needs Units Integrated in Scouting Programs

There are some basic things that scouting units should do to make sure that they provide the highest quality unit which can lead to a fully integrated program.

1. Start with whatever the core values are that your scouting program has. Most all scouting programs will have an Oath, Law or Pledge.  Here are a few examples.

The Girl Scout Promise:
On my honor, I will try
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

The Boy Scout Oath:
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

The Australian Oath:
On my honour
I promise that I will do my best
To do my duty to my God, and
To (the Queen of) Australia
To help other people, and
To the live by the Scout Law

It does not matter if you are in Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts or any other type of scouting group from any country or region, each group should focus on the foundational principles of their organization. If the leaders don’t start here, then the value of the whole program is in question.  Leaders should be holding themselves to the same high standards as are expected by their scouts.

2. Ensure that all leadership is trained. The leaders should go though all of the basic training that the scouting organization offers to be fully trained in the program that they are offering.  Then try to bring in specialists that can provide additional training and support that is relevant for your group.

For example, Cub Scout Pack 2 in Vancouver, WA sets aside a portion of their monthly committee and parent meetings for this kind of training. You can bring in teachers who work in the local school districts that work with the kiddos with special needs, OT (occupational therapists), PT (physical therapists) or other professionals that can provide training on working with those who have sensory needs or other special needs.

3. Find leaders that are open-minded, accepting and motivating. Look for individuals that are not afraid to say they don’t know something but are proactive and willing enough to find out a solution. Finding someone willing to step outside their comfort zone for the sake of helping others not only helps your scouts but provides that leader with personal growth opportunities also. On the flip side, do your best to avoid leaders who tend to make excuses for accessibility or adaptation. We want our scouts to do their best and stretch for the stars. Leaders that believe in the scouts help the scouts believe in themselves.

4. Ensure that the program is challenging enough and doesn’t sell the scouts short. Many parents out of love feel they may want to protect their scouts by having them avoid things they perceive their scouts can’t do.

Scouts will often surprise you, especially when given a chance and encouragement to try.  Many times the scouts can do even more than they themselves realize and it helps build their self-confidence and courage to try new tasks.  

Develop a program that takes full advantage of what the scouting program offers. If the program has an option for hiking, camping and other things like this, by all means, encourage your scouts to try it out. In some cases accommodations or adaptations make sense. By starting off reasonably and planning in advance, you can pace your program to allow your scouts the greatest success.  Not every scout will be ready for every activity but having the activities available as options keeps the door open. I am not saying make it extreme scouting, just don’t sell the scouts short. Let their lights shine.

5. Teach inclusiveness within your group both to the youth and the adults. Many times its the parents that have the biggest challenge when issues arise because of lack of information or fear of the unknown.  Have a parent support meeting where parents can get to know each other and if they so desire, to share about their kids. It can be very isolating for families who have children with autism and they may not be used to adult social interaction beyond IEP meetings, therapy visits and family.  Finding another parent who “gets” the challenges and rewards of raising children who are on the spectrum can be empowering for that parent.  

In fact due to the nature of these units, there is often an opportunity for greater bonding among families because there is acceptance. When kids feel accepted and adults feel accepted, they will thrive and be much less inhibited. They learn life skills, have positive social interactions, build self-esteem and can learn to transfer these skills into other life situations. In some ways, because of common bonds, these special needs united may be even tighter or more unit than typical units.

Cindy Pope of Special Needs Troop 2 in Springfield reports some amazing stories about how their unit seems to be more united than typical units in the area.

“We are a mixed abilities unit. We currently have 14 Boy Scouts and 2 Lone Cub Scouts. We have Scouts with autism, asperger's, sensory processing disorder, ADHD, ODD, cerebral palsy, anxiety disorders, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, bipolar, fragile x syndrome, etc. Three Scouts are in wheelchairs and another is in a chair for strenuous activity (has half a heart). Several of our Scouts have multiple disabilities/mixed abilities.”

She continues, “Our Scouts are the most accepting group of kids I've ever met. When a new Scout joins the group, every patrol wants the Scout to join theirs. This is something that is sometimes overwhelming, but thrilling, to a boy that usually finds themselves on the outside of every group. The Scouts help each other succeed by combining their strengths and filling in each others deficits. It is a very heartwarming scene to behold!”

6. Build relations with other typical units within your area. 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 fuller and more meaningful scouting experience. Here is a link - Three Rivers Champion Buddy Program. (yes, this past part was from my prior blog but it was worth repeating!)

Cub Scout Pack 2 (special needs unit) is working with Cub Scout Pack 422 and Troop 554 (traditional units) to bridge the gap between traditional and non-traditional and Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. These relationships are an asset to all three units and will continue to make all of them stronger. By having units with younger scouts (i.e. packs) build relationships with units that have older scouts (i.e. troops), you can also help set the stage to give scouts a healthy transition from a special needs unit to a traditional unit.

7. My youngest son was a preschool student in our school district for two years before he transitioned into a mainstream Kindergarten with pull outs for additional help he needs. The first year of his preschool, he was in a classroom that was just for kiddos with special needs. The second year they added in a few typically developing kids in the classroom as peer role models.  The idea was that gradual integration would give kids a better chance at being socially successful in a typical developing Kindergarten. A side benefit was that the typically developing kids also were exposed to an atmosphere that provided more acceptance and taught patience and understanding. It was a win - win situation for all.  Having typically developing scouts within sensory friendly or special needs units can produce the same results and provide a great base of tolerance and understanding. From personal experience, this really has worked well.

8. Bringing in Den Chiefs (for Boy Scouts in the US) to be role models is also something that can be very successful. Use the connections and the units in your area to assist with your particular group. Boys in Boy Scout units need leadership experience if they would like to advance past the rank of First Class. This opportunity gives the boys coming in experience working with kids that are younger and with kids that have different abilities. Don’t sell the boys coming in short either, they will amaze you as well.  Of course I do recommend if you have a merit badge such as Disabilities Awareness, that your incoming Den Chiefs have this in advance or are working on it simultaneously.

9. Have all of the parents involved and help them become invested in the scouting program. They’re already invested in their children, so investing in their youth’s success seems a natural next step.  Ask them to attend the appropriate training provided. Then since they have committed time and effort, they will be more likely and empowered to make sure that the unit is successful.

Cindy Pope talks about a wonderful side effect of having parents engaged in the program, “We have had a wonderful side effect to our nontraditional unit. The parents have found a network of other parents that have the same struggles and issues with raising their son - a support group of sorts. We have all gained additional knowledge in how to work with our schools and where to find assistance in the community for specific needs.”

10. If your unit reports to a District, Council or region make sure that your unit is plugged into these programs as well. Summer camps, Family camps, parades or other gatherings, make sure that your unit is involved and part of the program.

These are just a few steps on how your unit can become actively involved in moving from separation to integration by combining into an integral whole.

I would love to hear what you have to think, please let us know.

Accept, Enrich, Inspire, Empower!

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