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.
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.
- 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.