Special Needs Scouts

Adapting to Scouts’ Needs

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Many of our units have now completed summer camp. The leaders have learned more about their scouts in that short week than they will the rest of the year. Some scouts are easy to manage and guide. Others require more skill to manage and guide.

Now is a great time to discuss with the other leaders of your unit the lessons learned about each of your scouts and to strategize on how to better serve them in their individual needs.

I grew up in scouts with some physical impairments. We never discussed these impairments with my scoutmaster. My family took the attitude that these were my hurdles to overcome. In retrospect, my scoutmaster had to learn my needs independently without much guidance. It gave him a tougher task. In the ’70’s and ’80’s, those things weren’t discussed as freely as today.

Over the past couple of years I have learned about the BSA’s standard practices for learning about and implementing individualized plans for scouts. This effort started from the efforts of Rebecca Zirnheld and Jody Winter to teach our troop about these standard practices. Over the intervening months I have come to see the value of these standard practices.

I highly recommend that all scout leaders read the the 8-page Guide to Working with Scouts with Special Needs and DisAbilities, No. 510-071 from the scouting.org website on special needs. If you have specific issues to address, more detail is available in the Scouting for Youth with Disabilities, No. 34059 (2007).

The key take away for me from these pieces of literature:

  • Students with special needs have a Individual Education Plan (“IEP”) designed at school.
  • 18% or so of students have an IEP.
  • An IEP can be a useful tool to help a scouter better understand his scout, if the parents wish to share the highly confidential IEP.
  • If the parents do not wish to share the IEP, a scouter who knows an IEP basic outline can ask more informed questions.
  • The scouting literature is very helpful to guide a scouter deal with known problems and foster open communication with the parents.

Sometimes we can best avoid future confusion and conflict by learning more about what resources are available to us before they are needed.

I could imagine a situation where a scouter finds his newest scout has ADHD, which is a new to the scouter. The scouter could ask the parents to meet with him for 20 minutes and have the guides at the meeting. The scouter could say to the parents, “I don’t know ADHD except what I read here. Let me show you what it says. What else do I need to know about your son that this guide does not tell me?”

Invariably, the parents will tell a great deal that the guide does not. But that is the point. The parents know their son the best, so asking is key.

Other useful websites:

  1. Sam Houston Council on special needs
  2. Facebook on Autism
  3. http://www.autismempowerment.org/autism-scouting-program/