Thursday, July 19, 2012

“Glad my Child is Normal”

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Autism and Scouting is a program of Autism Empowerment a 501(c)(3) non profit charity that relies on the public support in order to keep its programs going. To all of those who have given, thank you so much for your support and we hope others will consider helping keep programs like Autism and Scouting around for a long time.

This is somewhat of a personal blog. I had debated back and forth if I should share this story or not. I made a post on the Autism and Scouting Facebook Page putting out a situation with some of the details changed and the response was amazing. I feel compelled to share the full story, we would love to hear what you have to say either as a comment at the end of this blog or on our Facebook Page.

“Glad my Child is Normal”

At the start of June, our youngest was able to officially join Cub Scout Pack 2, which is a Cub Scout Pack in the Vancouver area that we helped co-found with the Cubmaster Deanna Pehrson in December of 2011. Pack 2 is the first Sensory Friendly Cub Scout Pack in the State of Washington and as such, has gotten a lot of press and the attention of both the District and Council.

So one of the local camps was having a Tiger Days for brand new tiger scouts. Since it was kind of short notice, only my son from our new Tiger Den was able to make it. Karen (the Tiger Parent) was super excited for our son as was I (Tiger Den Leader); it was going to be his first camp outing officially in scouting. We put on our class B, shirts that say Cub Scout Pack 2 on them and off to camp we went looking forward to seeing how he did with other scouts.
We arrived at camp, checked in and the boys had some time to play a few games and look at the map of the camp before we started. Then we were off to our first station, arts and crafts. Our Tiger is in a group with 5 other Tigers that are moving onto Wolf and despite him being the youngest, he did really well painting his shield. Our Tiger loves directions and maps, so what does he design on his shield? You guessed it, a map. 

While the boys were making the shields, the parents were talking and one noticed that we were with Cub Scout Pack 2 and said something like “we have seen your fliers and have heard about your pack”  and we started talking about special needs. I had told the one parent something along the lines that our Tiger had been diagnosed with autism and was very excited about being in scouts like his big brother. Our Tiger was a little amped up and did blurt out some facts that to others might have seemed random, but he did really great following directions and the rules.

Next it was off to learn Bocce Ball in a field game. There was a challenge with which boy would get to use their favorite color of Bocce balls so they resolved the issue by playing Rock, Paper, Scissors back to back. Many of the boys seemed to have issue with attention and focus but they did end up getting in the game.

Our Tiger was really looking forward to the next station. Butter making! He loves butter (by itself) and we are still working on the social do’s and don’ts when a tub of butter is sitting in front of you at the table. (i.e. It’s not socially appropriate to stick your finger in the tub of butter and then lick it and then put your finger back in the tub...) But in this case, the boys got to make butter and as a extra treat got to make pancakes as well. 

He really did not care about the pancakes, just the butter which he really enjoyed and which Karen and I admit was really rather tasty. As he was a bit antsy at this point waiting in line at the cooking station, I was standing in line for him to help make his pancakes. Karen was behind me watching our son having a ton of fun and one of the other moms (different than the one I first talked to about special needs kids) looked at me smiling and says something along the lines of

“Whew. What a relief to know that after seeing your son, I can now see that mine is average and normal.” and then turned...(this was RIGHT in front of our son, I might add)

What? I know, I did not hear that correctly! I must have phased out and missed a few words, that could not be what she said. Nobody is that clueless and cold, are they? The tone wasn’t mean, it was just matter-of-fact.

I have been a scout leader for 5 years going on 6, I have been running the Autism and Scouting Facebook page for 2 years come this August, I have heard from other parents about how cruel other pack and troop mates are (from around the country) and I have even had some personal challenges directly with some local leaders while working with issues surrounding transitions for our Cub Scout Pack 2 kids (which I am very happy to say have all been patched and a path for transition will be in place when they are ready).  Personally with my oldest, I have seen other parents “looks” but never ever had one person comment to me directly, so I was in shock.

Without saying a word, I stepped out of line and went to sit at one of the picnic tables. Karen was so taken aback from the woman’s words (not only from a Mom standpoint but from an Aspie standpoint as well) that she kindly took Ryan’s hand and led him on a bit of a nature walk. (She told me later she needed to get away to process what was said as it really shocked her.)  They soon came back and just a few minutes later, a call went out for half of us to go to Archery. Karen, our Scout and I were off down the path to the next station leaving the clueless parent behind. As we were walking down the path, Karen told me how sad she was about what the lady had said and I said something like, “so, that was what she said and I was not just hearing things.” She also said she was running dozens of scripts through her head about what she wanted to say but didn’t because she didn’t want to make a scene in front of Ryan and thought that taking the high road in this instance was the way to go. In retrospect she wishes she had said something... especially since the woman’s “so-called average” child seemed to have challenges of his own and she suspected it might not be too far down the road when that Mom also receives news about her son being on the spectrum but again, not the time and place... not in front of the kids.

At this point, our scout was doing an amazing job! He loved making his “Shield of Map”, learning the flag ceremony, throwing his bocce balls and eating butter while following directions, staying focused and being his exuberant, animated self. We were not going to let one person take away from his memories of the day or ours.

The rest of the day was Archery, lunch, a trip to the trading post (no camp would be complete without that) and next we transitioned to the next station which was an opening Flag Ceremony.  At this station they walked the boys through an opening and closing flag ceremony. When they asked for one of the scouts to volunteer to be a caller (I think they asked for the loudest scout) our Tiger, proud of his ability to speak in high volume popped to his feet and ran up to the flag pole and instructor to learn about calling a Flag Ceremony. Mom and Dad were so proud and he really did a great job (not just a proud daddy talking) but did have some focus issues (he liked the feel of the hay and liked randomly tossing it).  He also took “repeat after me” very literally and repeated EVERYTHING the instructor said. (Almost everyone was amused.  It’s very cute at 6!)

Afterwards we went to BB Guns and then an official Closing Flag Ceremony (he was the official caller again) and then a closing “campfire” with skits (there was no fire... talk about confusing to a literal thinker... and I’m talking my wife here, LOL!). Overall it was a great day and Karen, our Tiger and I will go away with great memories of the Tiger Day adventure.

That evening, during our nightly prayers our family did pray for the lady to realize what she had said was insensitive and could be hurtful and that the next time she be more sensitive.

The Question I asked

I posted this on the the facebook page:
Question of the Day - Please read the question or situation below and let us know how you would respond.

Situation - A scout who is on the Autism Spectrum is at Scout sponsored Day camp with his mom. It is a group of new scouts and moms (around 8 in all) and they proceed from station to station. Then one of the moms turns to the mom with the scout on the spectrum and says "After seeing your child, I am so thankful that my child is normal. " How do you respond or how do you respond?

I have to say that this really sparked a nerve and had some wonderful comments and suggestions. Having gone through this situation ourselves, this is something that many families may come across so it’s important to be prepared. What are your thoughts? Please leave comments below, at the Autism and Scouting Facebook page or e-mail them to

Parents Needing to be Prepared

Just as we try to prepare our scouts for what is thrown at them, we as scout parents need to be prepared as well when we come up against other parents who just don’t get it. Here a few tips.

If you get a negative comment try the following:

1. Stay positive, take a deep breath and smile.

2. Assess if this is a teachable moment. Just like with your scouts, if the person you are trying to get through to is not in a teachable moment, trying to teach them is useless. If they are in a teachable moment, show respect and teach.
3. Keep the focus on your scout and your family. It is not about the person being adversarial or ignorant, it is about your scout. (Also make sure to have your teachable moments outside of your scout’s earshot.)
4. Remember your group’s Oath and Law.
5. Remember your faith! Follow the teachings of your faith.
6. If you have to respond immediately and your scout is there, say something positive like “I love my scout and I think they are perfect” or something to that effect. Karen likes, “just imagine if Baskin Robbins only had 1 flavor instead of 31. We’re happy and accepting of our child for who they are, where they are and always encourage him/her to let their light shine.”

We hope this helps and keep your chin up and enjoy all of the success your scout’s program.

Accept, Enrich, Inspire, Empower!

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  1. Wow. Holy .... OMG... I didn't think it really would actually happen to somebody. I'm gobsmacked.

    I'm tempted to say, with a smirk "well, we all know that neurotypical people can't do empathy".

    Congratulations to all of you for keeping your cool in the face of such an awful experience. I'm just so grateful that your "ice creams" are of a different colour to that one.

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  3. We have 4 kinds of ice cream in our family. When they mix that is when the "real fun" start.