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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com 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?
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.