Sunday, November 11, 2012

Autism and Scouting Training - Changing Lives

Welcome and thank you so much for stopping by the Autism and Scouting blog. 

It has been one week past the Cascade Pacific Council’s Program and Training Conference and I am on still on a natural high from the amazing day of training. For the second year, Autism Empowerment offered training to support scouts on the autism spectrum in the local council where we live which includes parts of southwest Washington and quite a bit of Oregon.

I first want to give a great big thank you to Jackie Dannemiller who lead the team again that coordinated and hosted this year’s event. Without her support of Special Needs scouting, her vision of inclusion and her willingness to be a trailblazer by having multiple classes dedicated to both Autism, ADHD and differing abilities, none of the amazing things that happened this past weekend or last year would have transpired. 

Logo for this years event

We thought that last year we had a healthy turnout when we offered the same class twice. Last year we had forty-one people signed up for the two classes but when we gave the classes, we had 57 take part.  Last year, in the last class of day, we had 32 in a class with a cap of 25. It was great to see so many people interested in attending our classes when there were so many other courses run concurrently. Here a link to the blog I did last year.

This year I was joined by Karen Krejcha, the Executive Director of Autism Empowerment. We were given three time slots which included two introductory classes (a revised version of what we did last year) and an advanced “beyond the basics” class (newly written for this year). In addition to the extra class, Autism and Scouting had a table on the midway promoting Autism Empowerment’s four foundational pillars of Accept, Enrich, Inspire and Empower.

The night before, I was honored to have a one on one sit down dinner with Tony Mei, the BSA National Chair for Special Needs Scouting. Tony has been on the Autism and Scouting radio show many times and has been a big supporter of what we have been doing with Autism and Scouting. Tony is a dedicated special needs advocate within the scouting community. His work with the BSA and the Working with Scouts with disAbilities website ( is inspirational.

After the dinner, I was able to visit the school where the conference was being held and find the spot on the midway where Autism Empowerment was going to exhibit. I was pleased to see that we had a prime spot which would allow us for a lot of interaction with individuals as they entered and exited the conference. Then it was back home to put the finishing touches on the packets that we were going to hand out the next day. 

Neither Karen nor I are morning people to say the least, but we were up at 6 a.m. and out the door by 7 a.m. We arrived at the conference at 7:45 am and it was already filling up with hundreds of scouters ready to embrace a full day of training classes and exhibits. As we were starting to set up our new Autism and Scouting promotion board, attendees started coming up to our table and many asked questions. Being that Autism Empowerment believes in positively collaborating with other community providers, we wanted to make sure to include not just our information but resources from other providers as well. We had material on our table from Autism Empowerment, Autism and Scouting, the BSA Special Needs Committee, SEPTSA, the ARC, the Parent Coalition, Amazing Moms, W.I.S.E. and others as well. Scouters seemed very interested in taking home a variety of our resources. In fact a few items (which we thought we had plenty for) were gobbled up within the first 15 minutes after set-up.

Karen and I also had the opportunity to meet the Committee Chair of the Cascade Pacific Council’s new Special Needs Committee, David Robinson. Karen and I (in a consulting role through Autism Empowerment and as volunteers with the BSA) had been recently offered positions on the Committee. I had spoken with David on the phone and communicated via email a number of times. It was great to have the opportunity to meet face to face. David is also a pioneer in providing supports for scouts with different abilities and gave a variety of classes of his own throughout the day.

We were able to get a moment of break time as everybody needed to stop for opening ceremonies at 8:30. The first 45 minutes was a flurry of activity and if we had gone home just in those first 45 minutes, we would have already felt success. As it turns out, all of the successes for the day were just about to start to pile up. 

Had so many people stop by and talk to us

The first class session of the day at 9:00 a.m. was free for us which turned out to be a positive because we initially had some equipment compatibility issues when setting up our presentation. Fortunately the conference support staff volunteered their time and equipment and we soon had a workaround.

Session 2 (10:00 am - 10:50 am) - Autism and Scouting Basics Class - This was our first class of the day that we were teaching. We had 15 scouters signed up for the class and the total ended up being 23. We were very honored to have Tony Mei, National Chair of Special Needs (who flew in from California) and David Robinson, the CPC Special Needs Chair sit in on our class as well as Cub Scout, Boy Scout and Venturing Scout leaders. 

We updated and added to our presentation from last year and having a back and forth presentation with Karen and I both connected really made the whole class much stronger. One drawback was that we had SO much information to share, we got through about 90% of the class.

We did provide a take home packet with both the Basic and Advanced class slides (as well as on the CD) and many more handouts. The class was engaged and we took the whole 50 minutes. Afterwards, we had many people come up to talk with us and we did not get out of the classroom until 15 minutes past the hour talking and exchanging information.

This was the first time that Karen and I both presented the scouting training together and I think we really did an amazing job. My wife and I have been married 20 years and we have a natural banter. We both agreed that the joint presentation model provided more visual interest and allowed attendees to listen to more than one voice. People were engaged, laughing and having a good time but most importantly, they went away with a great deal of information. We brought home the point that no two scouts on the autism spectrum are the same and to accept individuals on the spectrum for who they are, where they’re at. When you do, then you can work on the enrichments aspects.

We had Session 3 and 4 off. This gave us the chance to have lunch and then to restock information at the table. We then were back to the classroom to prepare for our new class.

Session 5 (1:00 pm -  1:50 pm) - Autism and Scouting Beyond the Basics - This class was new for 2012 and designed just for the Program and Training Conference. We were able to explore the differences between a sensory issue and behavioral issue in greater detail, how to build a sensory friendly unit (which all units can be sensory friendly) and talk about advancement and accommodations. In this class, we had 14 signed up for the class and we ended up having 22. We again covered a great deal of information and all of the people in the class we think came away with more tools to better work with their own scouts or other scouts in their units. We again had a good mix of Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Venturing and District scouters. Just because of the sheer amount of information that we covered, we only got to about 95% of the slides.

(We always learn something when we do a training and one of those things that we learn again and again is that we have a tendency to go “longer” than we initially anticipate due to questions, tangents and human nature.)  

One of the big new ideas in both classes was the use of Sensory versus Behavioral issue information by Angie Voss (Making S.E.N.S.E. of sensory issues) and incorporating themes from Jennifer Cook O’Toole’s Asperkids book to help leaders plug into a scout’s special interest in order to better tap into their world and teach new concepts.. Also, new to this training was the addition of the advancement piece which was researched and customized based on current scouting regulations.

Jennifer Cook O’Toole -

Session 6 (2:00 - 2:50 pm) - Autism and Scouting Basics Class - For this session late in the day, we had 10 people signed up for the class and we ended up with 12. As this was a repeat of the session 2 class, we were able to get through the whole class and all of the slides.  Like the other two training classes, we were able to keep the atmosphere light, provide a ton of information and have the leaders go away with useful information that will help those they come into contact with.

Session 7, at the start we were still talking to people from the prior class. We then cleaned up the room, signed a thank you card for the teacher whose room we were borrowing for the day, packed up all of the equipment and walked out of the room knowing that amazing things had transpired, leaders were touched and youth will have leaders will be empowered with more tools and the opportunity to plug into ongoing training and support.

We then went back to the table where were we able talk to a number of people before we had to leave.

The day was nothing short of amazing! We talked to camp directors, wanting us to come and give additional training, District Volunteers wanting us to provide support to start sensory friendly units and dozens of contacts prepared to take what they learned to make real and instant changes in how they run their units.

On our fourth-five minute home, after a full day of training and emotion know that today was something special. It took us hours to come down from the natural high of what transpired. It really was an amazing day. We realize though that it’s not about “us” (John and Karen). It is spreading the mission, vision and positive message of Autism Empowerment. It is letting people know that they’re not alone out there. It’s connecting people with tools, resources and people that will support and empower them.

Again, thank you so much to Jackie Dannemiller and the outstanding staff. Thank you so much for having us and we hope that we will be able to do this again next year. 

We have been asked to come back next year to provide the training as well and we have already marked the calender for Saturday, November 2nd.
We will be posting the two trainings and support materials on the Autism Empowerment website so they can be used by others around the nation and world. We also are planning to soon host our trainings through webinars online. We hope to have that in place by the beginning of 2013.

We would also like to thank Sean Williams, an amazing scouter in St. Charles, IL who recently offered the Autism and Scouting Training in Aurora, IL on Saturday, November 10th. We really are blessed to be surrounded by so many wonderful scouters who want to serve those scouts who are underserved and yet so deserving within our community.

Accept - The scout for who they are and if they are not ready for advancement that is okay. Scouting is not all about advancement. It is about learning life skills, gaining life experience and having fun along the way.

Enrich - The scout may be challenged to step outside of their comfort zone and expand their world.

Inspire - Make sure to inspire the scout with positive encouragement. A kind tone and positive words go a long way to increasing self-confidence. You will likely find yourself inspired by the scout as well.

Empower - By giving the scout the tools in advance to be successful, you are giving them the tools to do their best and to be empowered.

I also wanted to share our new Autism and Scouting graphic which incorporates the colors of Autism Empowerment’s four foundational pillars. This is not yet the final graphic, we hope to have the puzzle pieces to be more pronounced soon. Thank you so much to Danny Ayers for volunteering to help us out!

We would love to hear your feedback!

Autism Empowerment Facebook Page -
Autism and Scouting Facebook Page -


  1. It's a great training, I strongly recommend that other councils incorporate this training into their training academy's. John & Karen keep up the great work, you really are making a difference!!!!!

  2. This is a great initiative but sadly to late for so many wonderful boys and their families. We are in a horrible council for boys with special needs especially those like autism spectrum and 'non physical' issues. We switched to a counsel over 2 hours away to get the support we needed for our 'aspey'. This needs to be mandatory not voluntary training.