Why Scouts BSA is Terrific for Autistic Youth
Because we are a Scouting family, I know exactly why Scouts BSA is terrific for autistic youth. Both of my autistic teens are very involved in Scouts.
I can attest to the amazing progress in my kids that comes with belonging to Scouts BSA.
“Adventure is out there!”
That’s one of my favorite movie quotes from the very cool movie “UP!” I just love Russell. He has an infectious enthusiasm for the Scouting way of life. He is also my husband’s character avatar (who happens to be a BSA troop scoutmaster). No, seriously. My husband looked exactly like Russell when he was a kid.
When my autistic son turned 11, my husband couldn’t wait to introduce him to Scouts. Camping expeditions, learning knots, campfire cooking, canoe trips, patrol leadership…where else can a young teen do all this and MORE than in Scouts?
Maybe you think…Ok, I get that it’s beneficial for many teen boys and girls. But why should my autistic child get involved? Won’t it be another peer-group that will keep my child at arm’s length?
I get it. I had the same fears. Having the social-communication challenges that often come with autism don’t make the road to travel the life stages very easy.
But being involved in Scouts can! Now that my son is an Eagle Scout, I can share why I believe Scouting is terrific—and actually a better alternative to traditional therapy—for those on the spectrum.
The Benefits of Scouts BSA for Those with Autism
Scouts BSA provides that “safe”, natural, inclusive group environment with one’s peers and adult mentors. In Scouts an autistic youth can develop appropriate skills in social-communication, executive-functioning, confident leadership, self-help, and self-advocacy.
All through FUN ADVENTURES, of course!
In other words, the benefits for a teen with autism to become a Scout are beyond measure!
1. It has a supportive environment for those needing a place to feel included.
No other group-oriented environment provides the same level of long-term, consistent support like Scouts (starting at Kindergarten with Cub Scouts).
Sports and band are only for a few seasons. Church youth groups and high school classes have a single-minded focus.
Therapy environments feel forced and unnatural. Parents have enough of their plate at home…plus they can’t be their teen’s only role-model if they want him or her to develop independence skills.
A good Scout troop will be…
…Kind and respectful to every person.
Any peer Scout who antagonizes or discourages those on the spectrum would never be tolerated. Ask what protocols have been implemented to not only prevent bullying but to encourage positive interaction among peers.
.…Accommodating to individual needs.
The troops should encourage each person to progress through the ranks at his/her own pace while still giving them challenges to master in order to gain self-confidence. Ask if the troop leadership has been trained to recognize and support those with cognitive-sensory differences.
They should also be willing to meet with parents and discuss how the IEP or other assessment can be used to effectively develop a good plan of achievement for the individual Scout.
Read my article about accessing special needs accommodations in Scouts BSA.
…Building trust by meeting on a consistent basis.
My family’s Scouts BSA troop meets once a week all year for ages 11-18. They have campouts or other events at least once a month. Obviously, good trusting relationships can be built in such an environment.
If your child would like to join at a young age, get involved in a Cub Pack (ages 5-11). Venturing Crews are high-adventure troops for young men and women ages 14-21.
2. The scouting experience provides “free therapy”.
No other environment provides a place to learn therapeutic skills like Scouts BSA…without paying for expensive sessions!
Let me break that down by the 3 main “diagnostic traits” associated with autism:
Scouts learn to communicate their needs to each other in order to accomplish tasks. For example, a patrol must talk and work together to solve a problem or master a challenge, like setting up a tent campsite or making a campfire recipe.
Most of the troop activities are interactive, so an autistic child will gain valuable social and communication skills. Very few (if any) therapy settings provide this level of interactive group learning to develop good social and communication skills.
By earning merit badges and ranks, Scouts learn to set short- and long-term achievement goals. With the help of adult leaders, they develop discipline to see those goals fulfilled.
Specific merit badges teach time management, cooking, self-care and hygiene, safety and first aid, awareness of the community, swim skills, and many, many more valuable life skills…everything that leads to greater independence, a strong work-ethic, and compassion for others.
Behavioral therapists may spend months working on ONE particular skill set, while Scouts provides the opportunities to enhance executive-functioning skills in a real-world, demonstrable setting.
Scouting also provides a setting that no office setting can possibly achieve. It allows them to also translate life skills into the real world. That is why Scouts BSA is terrific for autistic youth
The world of Scouts is a tactile world. There is a lot of hands-on activities to satisfy those who are sensory-seekers as well as those who need to develop fine and gross motor skills.
Some autistic Scouts enjoy the task of tying knots while others like the visual-spatial challenge of orienteering (which is using a compass to find hidden locations).
Being in a natural, calming environment during camp-outs is tremendously beneficial for those prone to sensory overload from other environments (especially without the distractions of electronics).
3. An autistic individual can learn valuable job skills.
Scouts is the perfect environment to develop both “hard” and “soft” job skills.
- Marketing and sales? The troop sells popcorn, pizzas and snack food at festivals.
- Face-to-face customer service? The troop provides dinner fundraisers, serving guests with a smile. They also do many face-to-face community-service projects, such as collecting scrap metal and other “good neighbor” duties.
- Leadership skills? They can serve in various roles, such as Patrol Leader, Troop Guide, and Quartermaster. Some are election-based and others volunteer-based.
- Public speaking? Each scout learns to speak in front of the whole troops and parents during the Court of Honor ceremonies as they discuss what they learned earning their merit badges and rank advancements.
- Interview skills? They promote themselves by explaining the reasons they should be elected to certain leadership positions within the troop.
- Actual employment? Scouts have the opportunity to work at their local Scout camps. My son worked as kitchen staff last summer and will again this year because they want him back so badly. The camp director has a brother with autism and he was extremely helpful in getting my son acclimated to his job. This was also a great opportunity to live away from home during the week to gain independent living skills. He came back a very confident, hard-working and conscientious young man.
4. It provides many opportunities for family bonding.
Scouts provides a wonderful avenue to developing a stronger bond with one’s teenager. This is another reason why Scouts BSA is terrific for autistic youth.
Teens who work alongside or at least witness their parents or other family members supporting them in their own interests and hobbies develop a greater relationship with them.
Here are reasons why parents are highly encouraged to be involved in their son or daughter’s troop:
Scouts see their parents as a model to emulate.
When a scout sees his or her parent modeling the “Scout Motto” with others in his troop, he or she gains a deeper appreciation and respect for them. As the teen Scout matures, so does his/her family member in a leadership capacity.
Scouts work with their parents to achieve their rank advancements and merit badges.
Often a scout must complete many of the tasks required to earn badges at home. For example, a family member can take the scout to witness a town hall meeting or help develop a food budget and menu list for the next camp-out.
Scouts work and have fun alongside their family.
Many parents and their scouts enjoy the time they spend at the weekend camp-outs together. My husband and son loved to develop tasty meals together for campfire cooking. Without the interference of the computer, phone or social media, they can spend quality one-on-one or group time together building memories.
5. It offers a variety of thrilling adventure trips.
Scouts is unique from many other organizations—if your child loves adventure, then Scouts BSA provides! Not only does it have many council-based “reservations” (or camps) with a plethora of outdoor and indoor activities, but it also has several “high-adventure” camps throughout the country.
They also participate in many guided educational or nature-based excursions. Some even go on hiking expeditions in other countries. These are sure to boost your teen’s self-confidence!
Troops have the option to stay a week at their own council’s camp or they can go to another state. For most years our troop stayed close to home at more local camps. They were able to earn several merit badges during their time, learn valuable skills, and gain confidence being away from home.
Indian lore, photography, kayaking, swimming, cooking, movie-making, scuba-diving, and archery are just a few of the many things a scout can do at camp.
This year our troop is going to Medicine Mountain Camp in South Dakota to explore Mt. Rushmore and other surrounding sites.
Check out my article on helpful tips on getting your special needs youth ready for summer camp.
Does your teen love space? Perhaps your troop can go to Space Camp for a week in Huntsville, Alabama.
Would your teen enjoy roughing it in a peaceful setting, canoeing and fishing? Then a guided tour of Boundary Waters in Minnesota is the ticket.
Does your teen dream about sailing in the Caribbean? Sea Base in the Florida Keys is a Scouts BSA High-Adventure Camp that allows scouts to stay overnight on a 40-foot, multi-cabin sailboat and learn sailing skills for the week. Our troop did this, visited an alligator farm and rode a high-speed airboat through the Everglades. My son absolutely loved this experience! (And now wants to move to Florida…)
These adventurous excursions continue to grow in number each year, allowing more scouts to explore more places in the great outdoors and gain world-perspective.
Valuable Life Skills Learned in Scouts BSA
I truly believe that, more than any therapy or other organization, the scouting experience has shaped my autistic son into a confident young man with a valuable set of skills to lead him into a positive direction into adulthood.
He has achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, one of the proudest moments in our family’s lives.
Now that Boys Scouts of America has been changed to Scouts BSA, teen girls can join troops and earn the same merit badges and ranks as the boys.
My 15-year-old autistic daughter just joined the inaugural female troop that is affiliated with my husband’s and son’s troop.
I am very excited that now teen girls get the same opportunities to experience these benefits of Scouting!
Being a scout will give your child the opportunities to reach high and dream big! This is, I believe, why Scouts BSA is terrific for autistic youth.
If “adventure is out there”, you will certainly find it in Scouts BSA!
For more information about Scouts BSA, visit the official website.