Monday, April 30, 2012

Order of the Aspie



This past weekend to me was a mixture of the Good and Bad about what scouting is within the context of the Boy Scouts of America.

This weekend my oldest son (12) attended the district’s annual Camporee. Camporee is where all of the BSA Boy Scout Units come together for two nights and have a day’s worth of summer camp jammed into one day. (Webelos can do an overnight as well and Bear Scouts can attend during the day.) There was tomahawk throwing, BB Guns, Black Powder Guns, Pistols (for Eagle Scouts), Archery, Search and Rescue Demo, Police Dog Demo, a rope course, balloon catapults, a Motocross Race to watch (first year they had this) and more. Then in the evening there was a campfire and an OA (Order of the Arrow) call out.

I was not able to attend the whole event, in fact I missed most of the day because Autism Empowerment was doing community outreach at the Southwest Washington Special Needs Conference and Resource Fair but I was able to make it back to see the boys cleaning up for dinner and making the campfire. Before the closing flag, skits and all of the rest, I had plenty of time to check-in with my son and find out that he had a really fun time. He didn’t shoot any of the guns but had a great time throwing the tomahawks, watching the races as well as joining in many of the other activities. Despite putting up the dining flies in the rain and the dark the night before, he was having fun and a good time.

 
                    His First Camp out in 2010 

Since crossing over into Boy Scouts a shade over two years ago, this was his third Camporee and it seemed like the best. During the campfire, we were both impressed and amazed to see different skits. Typically at many campfire programs the same skits are always being performed (Gravity Check etc.) but we were happy to see new ones we had never seen before.

Now it was time for the segue into what has been weighing on me since Saturday night, the Order of the Arrow callout and ceremony. I have written about this in the past and the one where I was most detailed was back in July of last year. Order of the Arrow and Autism. (link to that article). Since that first article on the Order of the Arrow, I have received scores of e-mails about how the Order of the Arrow serves as a negative for those with autism, Asperger’s or special needs because it reinforces a “cool group” mentality or “popular group” atmosphere.

Many times scouts who are on the Autism Spectrum have challenges in social environments and it can take a great deal of time and effort to develop the social skills to successfully interact with others. Although connections and friendships can be and are often made one on one, social integration among a group for kids on the autism spectrum takes place in a different way than one would see with kids that are considered neurotypically developing. While kids on the spectrum can and do make successful connections with others, in the beginning, it is often people with very similar interests.  The ability to know how much to share with others and when to share it and how to ask questions of others that shows an interest in developing a friendship is not intuitive to many on the spectrum and as such, some kids on the spectrum come across as seeming aloof or introverted while others may be right up in other’s space sharing about their special interest without properly reading social cues to know if the timing and length of conversation about a particular topic is socially appropriate.  As such, even though kids on the autism spectrum may be nice, friendly kids with the best of intentions, they can come across socially awkward, quirky or inappropriate without intending to.

Here is the purpose and requirements for the Order of the Arrow.

Purpose of Order of the Arrow
As Scouting’s National Honor Society, the purpose is to:
  • Recognize those who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives and through that recognition cause others to conduct themselves in a way that warrants similar recognition.
  • Promote camping, responsible outdoor adventure, and environmental stewardship as essential components of every Scout’s experience, in the unit, year-round, and in summer camp.
  • Develop leaders with the willingness, character, spirit and ability to advance the activities of their units, our Brotherhood, Scouting, and ultimately our nation.
  • Crystallize the Scout habit of helpfulness into a life purpose of leadership in cheerful service to others.
Requirements for Order of the Arrow
1.– Be a registered member of the Boy Scouts of America.
2. – Have fifteen nights of camping within the past two years. Of the fifteen nights, six nights must come from long-term camp consisting of six consecutive days and five nights of resident camping.
3. – Be a First Class or higher in rank.
4. – The scout must be elected in a special annual election by 50% or greater of the voting scouts present at the meeting.  A majority of the troop members need to be present for this election to take place.

I think most of us can get behind the purpose of the Order of the Arrow and the first three requirements are understandable.

Where I part with the the Order of the Arrow is on the fourth and last requirement. This last requirement DOES NOT follow the what I believe is the spirit of the scouting way and turns scouting into a popularity contest. While it is explained in advance to a group of 10 - 17 year old boys that voting should not be based on likability or popularity, that is exactly what it turns into.

Please do not think I am disrespecting the concept of the Order of the Arrow or that I have a personal resentment of the Order because my son was not called out.  This has been a long standing view of mine and it was crystallized this past weekend.  My son is the perfect example of why the Order of the Arrow is a popularity contest and is not based on the purpose of the Order of the Arrow.

I will be honest with you, yes, I am upset because out of 14 boys 10 made the call out (they all deserved it).  Of the six boys in his patrol, 4 were up for OA and he was the only one not to make it (talk about making for an uncomfortable social setting). Of the six boys that he crossed over with two years ago that were up for OA, he was the only one not to make it.  I am happy and proud of the other boys that did make it and it takes nothing away from them but this puts undue social pressure on the group and does not represent what I believe is the essence of scouting traditions.

My son’s example

My son crossed over into his current troop 2 years and 1 month ago and while in Cub Scouts, he earned his Arrow of Light and his religious knot. When he crossed over he was not even 10 and a half.

Rank Advancement - In four months in the Troop he earned his Scout and the Tenderfoot rank, after 11 months in the troop he earned his Second Class and then a month later about 1 year after joining the troop he was a First Class scout (age 11). By August he was a Star Scout (still age 11) and by the time of the elections, he had only one half of one requirement left for the rank of Life (age 12). He is on track to get his Life rank at the June Court of Honor (age 12).  
Leadership - For the first six months in Boy Scouts, he was the Patrol Leader, then was the Troop’s first Webmaster and then again served as Patrol Leader while he was a Star Scout
and at the time of OA Elections.
Camping - At the time of the election, he had over 25 nights of camping which included both summer camps that he could attend.
Service - At the time of the election, he had 44.5 hours of service recorded with the Troop and had attended 7 different Eagle Projects in support of the Troop. This was with less than 2 years in the troop. This does not even include the time he volunteers at our church as part of the tech team in support of the Jr High and High school program. In the past year, not recorded with the troop he has volunteered. He puts in about 2.5 hours per week (10 hours per month).
Attendance - He has attended about 90% of all of the Troop meetings in two years, he attends most all of the camping outings with the exception of the late fall ones, has made all of the Court of Honors since joining Boy Scouts and attended 5 different Eagle Court of honors and was part of an Honor Guard for one.
Other Awards - Completed all 5 parts of the 100 year Anniversary award and had earned 20 different merit badges at the time of the election. He was the number three top seller for both Popcorn and Christmas wreaths.

So what was he missing from the Mission and Purpose of the Order of the Arrow? Is it because he is quiet? Likes his privacy? Not loud and the life of the party? Not in the “in crowd”? Has sensory issues with food (which is not going to change)? Has some social issues? He is liked within his patrol and that is where he feels comfortable.

Not just a Personal Case

My son is just one story, but I have heard cases like my son from coast to coast where parents have scouts who are involved, they do service, they do camping but their scouts are on the Autism Spectrum and may be a bit quirky side but they represent the ideals and are not voted in because of the popularity perception.  I have heard a number of stories where the scouts that did not make the vote resulted where the scouts were being further stigmatized and being made to feel unworthy, unwanted and even to the point of being bullied for not being elected.

This whole process is doing exactly the opposite of the stated purpose of scouting and is tearing those down who are among the most vulnerable and susceptible emotionally.

What can be done?

Autism and Scouting wants to be part of the solution and not just the bearer of a subject without some type of solution. When this conversation came up a few months ago, a suggestion was made to have the voting be “blind” and that way the people are voting on the achievements and the qualifications of the scout in question. I had been thinking about this and this would be the way the troop could truly vote on who deserves the OA recognition rather that it be a popularity contest which despite its claims not to be, in the end is.

So how could this work? On the Ballot list the candidate by A, B, C, D, E etc and after each letter give the following information: Current rank, how long in troop, how many nights of camping, how many hours of service and any other honors.  The leadership would then have a list of the candidates name and the letter they are associated with. Yes, some may figure out who is who but this would give new scouts a chance to make a fair assessment of what each scout has done and if the requirements meet the ideals of the OA. Please let me know what you think about this way to do OA elections.

We would love to hear your ideas on what can help to make this a fair way to elect those that might have social issues but yet fully embody the Scouting traditions and ideals.

The Rest of the Story

So after all of my son’s friends were called up one by one who he was sitting next to, I asked how he was doing. He told me he was fine and that he was somewhat relieved he was not called up. I have to take him for what he said but I am not sure how much of that was real and how much he was just saying to protect himself. I told him that I was very proud of him and all that he has done in such a short time and gave him a hug. I think it was hard once all of his friends came back because they were making different references to what was going on and it really made the others feel that much more like outsiders. I was so proud of how he reacted and took it all in; that showed me just so much more why he should have been selected.

The next morning as we were driving home, we left early to make it home in time so he could do his volunteer work at our church. I again told him how much I Loved him and was proud of him. I then said, “I select you to the Order of the Aspie”. He looked over to me and with a big smile we high fived.

 



Accept, Enrich, Inspire, Empower!

To learn more about Autism Empowerment, a 501(c)(3) public charity and to help support our Autism and Scouting Program, please visit:

Autism Empowerment Facebook Page - http://www.facebook.com/autismempowerment
Autism and Scouting Facebook Page - http://www.facebook.com/autismandscouting

email
john@autismempowerment.org or autismandscouting@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

One in One - The real Autism Rate

Hello All Scouters, parents, leaders and scouts!

It is so good to be back blogging again. It really was my intention to blog at least 15 times during the month of April for it being Autism Awareness month but as Autism Empowerment had many different events, time really got away from me. I will be writing more because I have a lot I would love to share and get your feedback on. 



There have been so many things also that have been reported in the news lately that I have not had a chance to talk about. One of the largest things was the release by the CDC of the new “national” autism rates. The reason I put “ “ around national is that the rates that make up the national number only came from a handful of states and a handful of counties within those states. Nonetheless, based on a 2008 study, it is now reported that 1 in 88 are on the Autism Spectrum and 1 in 54 are boys. I will get back to this shortly. 


Our society is really kind of bent on reporting numbers. If you look at that pack that Autism Empowerment/Autism and Scouting is serving, 86% of our boys from Cub Scout Pack 2 fall someplace on the Autism Spectrum.

Recently, Autism Empowerment held some of its first physical events in the local Vancouver/Portland Metro area since receiving our 501(c)(3) status in September of 2011. We did hold a BSA training session on providing support to scout leaders working with scouts on the Autism Spectrum at the Excellence and Training Conference that reached about 300 scout leaders in the Cascade Pacific Council in early November.

We have been in the process of developing many new and exciting programs that we hope to roll out shortly. We held an Autism Acceptance and Awareness Forum in Vancouver that brought together local resources for families on April 3rd and then help the first annual Special Needs Easter Egg Hunt on April 7th.

At the Easter Egg hunt, 137 youth registered and we ended up serving over 450. Of the 450, about 70% were on the Autism Spectrum.
In our family, 75% of our family is on the Autism Spectrum. I am the 25% that is not and thus I am outnumbered and I would not have it any other way. My family is as perfect in my eyes as they can be but sometimes I wish the challenges we face and meltdowns we have to overcome (we all have had these at one time or another) would be less.

I don’t bring up the numbers to be boastful and say hey look at what we did, I bring up the numbers because that is how many in society looks at things and how they measure things. What percentage is being served and how many? Thus it all relates back to those new numbers by the CDC. We understand that it is important to determine how many in our society are on the Autism Spectrum because then that will hopefully provide more funds for government programs, public school funding, more services an opportunities in the medical and recreational communities and the like but ….

Should it be about the numbers? No

I submit that it does not matter if it is 70% or 75% or 1 in 110 (old numbers) or 1 in 88 or 1 in 54 for boys (I think 1 in 36 in South Korea?), what matters is that those living with Autism it is 1 in 1 or 100%. If you have a child or young adult or a fully grown adult or it is somebody you love or care for that has Autism, that rate is 1 in 1. Every person and family is important and thus one of our goals is to serve the 1 in 1. Treat every person not as a 1 in 88 or 1 in 54 but as a 1 in 1, a unique, special individual that has potential and the capacity for love, acceptance and contributing to the world he or she is a part of.
At Autism Empowerment, we want to provide services in the HERE and NOW. All of the legitimate non-profits  do have a place and we welcome them and reach out to them to help serve the 1 in 1. We want to provide unique services such as the Autism and Scouting program, Community Outreach Program and others that will be launched shortly.  

Karen and I feel a calling to serve by developing programs that will serve the 1 in 1. We have so many great plans for the Autism and Scouting Program and really want to be able to support to every scout, scout leader and family that has an association with a scout on the Autism Spectrum.

If you have not liked Autism Empowerment yet to keep on top of what is going on, please do so at http://www.facebook.com/autismempowerment.  For all of those who have supported our mission by your donations, kind words and prayers thank you! We need your help! If you would like to help us in any of our programs we welcome that at as well. If you you have any questions on how you can help either with in-kind donations, direct donations or chance to volunteer if in the Vancouver/Portland area, please send me a note and I will be more than happy to get back to you.

Accept, Enrich, Inspire, Empower!

To learn more about Autism Empowerment, a 501(c)(3) public charity and to help support our Autism and Scouting Program, please visit:

Autism Empowerment Facebook Page - http://www.facebook.com/autismempowerment
Autism and Scouting Facebook Page - http://www.facebook.com/autismandscouting

email
john@autismempowerment.org or autismandscouting@gmail.com

Friday, April 13, 2012

How typical units can bridge the gap


How typical units can help bridge the gap and how typical units can be more inclusive.

It has been awhile since I have blogged and it feels good to be back in the saddle again. I really have missed blogging and I plan on doing much more for the balance of this month and beyond.  Before we get to part 5 and 6, I have a few things to share.

First I want to recognize April as Autism Awareness month. I think we are all pretty now aware of Autism. It it time to move to acceptance and support.

Second, the Autism and Scouting Facebook page has now reached over 500 people “liking” which is so wonderful to know that there are so many parents, caregivers and leaders that care enough to empower themselves with tools to support the scouts that they work with.

So... back to the Inclusiveness Series!

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. We also looked at how special needs units can lead to integration.





How typical units can help bridge the gap -

How can typical units can be more inclusive -

In most areas, unless you personally start a special needs unit or sensory friendly unit, you will be left with choices of units that are in your local neighborhood. In most of these cases they may not be prepared for scouts on the Autism Spectrum.  Even if they have worked with a scout on the spectrum before, that scout may be very different from yours. There may be similarities but there are most certainly differences.

It is the hope that your local units will do what they can to make your scouts feel comfortable but in many cases, even if they have the best intentions, there is a good chance they have had little experience working with scouts on the Autism Spectrum.

It it the hope and goal of Autism Empowerment via our Autism and Scouting Program to provide resources, training and support to any unit and its leaders. We will be introducing many new programs over the coming months that will support the parents, caregivers and leaders in creating and maintaining a positive scouting experience for scouts and families impacted by autism. We are seeking your feedback on what you think that you need and want to make sure that we take your comments into account as we launch our new programs.

In the meantime we want to give these typical units some strategies or tasks they can implement to help support your scout.

1. Have a meeting with the person in charge of the program (Girl Scout leader, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster etc...) and the person in charge of supporting the back-end of the program (usually a Committee Chair).  

This meeting should be at first between the caregiver and the leadership without the child present. Both parties should ask questions of each other.  Here are some questions to consider.

Questions from the caregiver / parent to ask the Unit leaders:
1.  Has the unit had anybody else within the unit have a scout with Autism similar to the conditions that your child has?
2.  Does the leadership have any experience with Autism?
3.  What can I do to help? Many times a family member will become an assistant Den Leader or a Den Leader to make sure they are aware and around during all of the Den and Pack events. This is especially recommended at the younger scouting levels. Leadership will often be more willing to work with you when they know you are willing and interested in taking an active role. (Do not expect a drop-off service.)

Questions that Unit Leaders should be asking parents:
1.  What do you see your scout’s greatest challenges to be?
2.  What are your scouts strengths and special interests?
3.  What is the best way your scout learns? Verbal, Visual etc..
4.  What allergies or sensory issues does your scout have?
5.  What are his/her triggers?
6.  What are effective and ineffective ways of helping your scout?

After the meeting between just the caregiver/parent and leadership, bring in the scout to meet the leadership. This is a great chance for the leadership to get some time to see how they will react to new people and adults.

2.  Have the family fill out a Sensory Profile. Autism Empowerment offers a free Sensory Profile to anybody and will shortly be putting on its Autism and Scouting page for leadership and parents to use. If you would like a copy in the meantime, please feel free to e-mail autismandscouting@gmail.com or john@autismempowerment.org and we will send you a copy.

This profile will give the leadership information they need to arm them with an understanding of what triggers the scout has and how to give support to the scout in the case of meltdown or shut down.

3. The unit should set up a sensory room or quiet room where the scout can go to recover from sensory overload, a meltdown or shut down. This can be used for any scout that has an issue and I am sure that many parents and caregivers would find this useful. Some items we have found useful in the sensory room are noise-reduction headphones, ipods with calming music, fidgets, compression or weighted vests, weighted blankets, medicine balls, bean bags and crash pillows.

4. Create an atmosphere of acceptance and inclusion. Lack of acceptance will often prevent parents and caregivers from involving their child in outside activities. It is up to the leadership to create the atmosphere of acceptance and to educate others within the unit while respecting the privacy of the new family and scout.

This is such a key concept that really needs to be driven home. If the scout and the family feel that they are accepted in the unit, they will in many cases invest themselves more in the unit and the whole unit ends up stronger.

As scouting is faith based, the concept of acceptance is something that God would want. If you see other parents being rude or disrespectful take that parent or caregiver aside in private and let them know that it is not the scouting way and that all scouts should have a chance to successful.

5. Depending on the level of Autism the scout has, programs may need adaptations, however all scouts should have a chance to thrive and don’t assume that the scout can’t do something. One of the goals of scouting should be to provide them an enriching time and sometimes letting them stretch themselves is a good thing.  

By giving them an enrichment, this also means to let them be kids and have FUN! Scouting is meant to be fun and not a competition on who can earn the most things.

6. One of the greatest impacts that scouting can have on those who are on the Autism Spectrum in my estimation is to provide role models and socially acceptable behaviors.  The scouts will look to the leadership as a model so the leaders need to take on that responsibility and show the scouts a good model.

Encourage all leadership to be fully trained and to seek outside information. If they are not sure what they should seek for help or they have specific questions, one great resource is the Autism and Scouting Facebook pages. The leaders have access to over 500 parents, caregivers. leaders and scouts on the Autism Spectrum from over 26 nations with more being added regularly.  Ask a question and you are sure to get advice. You can always e-mail us directly and we will do our best to help you out.  

The leaders should also seek out other training from your district, council or area leadership. If they don’t have the training, let them know they need to provide it.  Education is so important to make strong leaders and thus a strong unit.

7. Empower the scout with the tools they need to be successful. Give them a safety net like you would with any scout. If they need supports, make accommodations when needed. Some may need visual support, some will do it best hands on. In the sensory form, find that information out but realize that with some kids it will be a combination. Many scouts on the autism spectrum that are visual learners will benefit by picture schedules or pictures with verbiage.  Auditory processing without visuals may be more difficult.

Some scouts will need to have a picture schedule, this is an easy accommodation and in many cases the other scouts will thrive as well. I have used schedules for years while a Cub Scout Den leader and it was great because the scouts knew what was coming and stayed focused on the task at hand. As kids are used to having schedules at school, having a schedule in scout is a natural complement to that.

8. Never allow a scout to be bullied. It is sad to say that this does happen in scouting and it shouldn’t. Leaders should stop this as soon as they see it or suspect it.

9. Ask for help! - Who should ask?
Parents should ask the leadership for help when help is needed.
Leaders should ask for help when they need help from the caregiver.
Leaders should ask for help to outside sources or other leaders for help.
Leaders should ask help from other parents and scouts to make sure the programs is a success for all scouts.
Scouts should ask for help to Parents and to Leaders when they need help.
Caregivers, leaders and Scouts should ask help to their higher power to be the best that they can.

So many times people think they can do it by themselves or don’t need any help. It could be that they don’t want to feel they are a burden, they are embarrassed or they don’t want to be seen as not being able to take care of a situation. For whatever reason, many times it comes down to one’s own pride. Put aside the ego. It is alright to ask for help. Scouting is built on doing good turns, doing your best and being prepared. In scouting being prepared is surrounding oneself with others who want other to be successful or at least we hope that is the case. A successful unit will be one that supports all of the scouts.

10. Make sure scouting is FUN!  Give the scout a reason to come back again and again!

We hope that you find benefit from these 10 strategies to make a unit more inclusive. You are not alone, we are only an e-mail or a post away from helping.


Accept, Enrich, Inspire, Empower!

To learn more about Autism Empowerment, a 501(c)(3) public charity and to help support our Autism and Scouting Program, please visit:

Autism Empowerment Facebook Page - http://www.facebook.com/autismempowerment
Autism and Scouting Facebook Page - http://www.facebook.com/autismandscouting

email
john@autismempowerment.org or autismandscouting@gmail.com