When the parents of a special-needs kid say ‘yes’ to Scouting, this happens…

Behold the power of “Yes.”

When Crystal Bueno and her husband first saw the go-kart their Tiger Cub sons were given at a council derby Saturday in Brooklyn, their first reaction was “No.”

“No way,” Crystal remembers thinking. “Marcus can’t do this. And Adam’s definitely not big enough or strong enough to push the kart.”

The reason for Crystal’s initial skepticism? Marcus, 7, is on the autism spectrum. And Adam was probably the smallest Tiger Cub out there.

But the Buenos let their sons try. That whole thing about it being better to try and fail than fail to try? That applies. And with Marcus steering and Adam providing the motor, the boys excelled.

It’s just more proof that Scouting is for all boys, even those like Marcus who might need special attention. What other youth program out there can say that?

The photo above speaks volumes, but read Crystal’s letter to see just how powerful this program has already been for two new Scouting parents: 

Hi Bryan,

I like your blog very much! My boys — Tiger Cubs — are new to Scouting this year, and are having the time of their lives.

My 7-yr old son Marcus, is on the autism spectrum. I thought a good topic for a future blog might be how packs/troops accommodate their programs for special-needs kids, to make the program welcoming for kids of all abilities. In our experience, our pack has been wonderful about welcoming special-needs boys, adapting the program as needed, and above all, constantly encouraging them to live up to the Cub Scout motto, “Do Your Best.”

The whole easy and respectful equality among the boys of our pack is set by our Cubmaster, Mr. Dono, and the other extraordinary leaders. And I think this attitude and approach to the Scouting program really is set from the top down.

As just one example, we took the boys to their first Cub Scout Go-Kart derby on Saturday at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. We had no idea what to expect, what we were in for. I know that if we had actually SEEN the kart ahead of time, or knew that the boys had to navigate an obstacle course while pushing this kart? My husband and I both agreed, we would have said “No way. Marcus can’t do this. And Adam’s definitely not big enough or strong enough to push the kart.”

But thankfully, we didn’t know what we were in for.

Our leaders were much more confident, and coached Marcus carefully about how to steer the kart. We stood to the side to watch others do it several times before it was our turn. The other boys were all going crazy, cheering and encouraging Adam — the smallest little Tiger Cub — to just push hard, even though the kart was very heavy for him. And for Marcus, the Cubmaster put a little piece of orange tape on the steering wheel (orange is Marcus’ favorite color!) so he had a visual guide to help him keep the wheel straight. Talk about making memories — my boys had the best. Day. EVER!!

My husband and I both felt like Marlin in Finding Nemo: “You think you can do these things, but you just CAN’T, Nemo!”

Well, our little Nemo proved us wrong, and we so proud!

A picture is worth a thousand words. This is Marcus steering the kart, and Adam pushing. The look on their face is absolute joy!!

Thank you,

Crystal Bueno

Pack 187, Brooklyn

Powerful, right? Stories like that remind us why we’re all here.

As for Crystal’s point about resources for special-needs Scouts, they’re out there.

The March 2013 ScoutCast, for example, has some great insight. This Scouting magazine What Would You Do? article about Asperger’s includes real-life solutions. Clarke Green’s blog has a great page with additional info. And don’t forget to Like the Autism and Scouting Facebook page, an unofficial resource for parents and leaders.

But we can always do more, so I’d encourage anyone to leave their comments below and offer additional tips or resources.

19 thoughts on “When the parents of a special-needs kid say ‘yes’ to Scouting, this happens…

  1. What a great lesson for the other scouts and, probably more importantly, the leaders! Our Webelos had an opportunity to demonstrate “helpful”, “friendly”, “kind”, and “brave” at Webelos Woods last fall. The boys are pretty competitive, and they had already performed very well at two of the competitions on Saturday morning. In the 3rd event, they had to pitch a large (6-8 person) tent for time and accuracy. One of the boys in the den is autistic and is losing his sight due to a congenital condition. Those boys dropped their jobs and helped their friend get his assigned task done first, and then they went back to finish their work. They may not have been the fastest den in that event, but I’d say they won (and of course, every parent & leader watching was in tears).

    The take-away for me was trying to come up with some “games” where we could put the boys in situations where they have to help each other – both raising awareness that everyone isn’t the same and giving them the opportunity to be challenged to do something they would regularly excel at.

  2. Amen brother , I have two autistic kids in my Den and yes there are a challenge , but they have both surprised me . One has almost a photographic mind , so he memorizes every thing , he’s a cool kid . I was skeptical at first , but now we are fine .

  3. We have a Scout, Robert, in our Troop who is severely autistic. He camps with the Troop (in a tent with his father) but cooks with his patrol. Sometimes its only boiling water for hot chocolate, but he’s helping. Last December several of the patrols got together to do the swimming parts of swimming merit badge, and Robert was there. Except for using his clothes as a flotation device, he excelled at every other task. I don’t believe he even has his Scout badge yet, but he comes, participates, and has fun.

  4. I lead our Council’s Special Needs Advocay & Resource Group because I believe that all boys should be able to enjoy scouting. My son has Duchenne Muscular Dystophy (DMD). He uses a power wheelchair to get around & I am a HUGE proponent of boys with special needs in scouting. Many parents believe that if you’re not athletic, etc. you can’t join scouts. I’ve been spreading the word that scouts is for everyone. My son, Matthew, joined Cub Scouts when he was in 1st grade. Now, at age 12, he is an active Boy Scout. My son sleeps in a tent with the other boys. The older boys have learned how to lift him and get him into his chair. On camping trips there is a “duty roster” for items such as fire building, cooking, dishes, etc. We’ve added another line item –Matthew’s buddy.” A different boy is assigned for each meal to help him with his tray, etc. Either my husband or I are on each camping trip (for dressing and toileting duties) but we try to step back and let the boys do as much as they are comfortable doing to help Matthew. He is very independent and I credit that to scouting.

  5. One of my Wood Badge tickets was to hold a presentation on Scouting with Special Needs. As a matter of fact, the scout master who went with me to Wood Badge also had the same ticket. She and I held it roundtable style and invited a scout parent who has an autistic son and is in the process of earning her advanced degree in disabilities.

    There were about 12 people in attendance from parents to district commissioners, district executives and even council commissioners (one who happened to be on staff at our Wood Badge course.) The scout master is now the Trailblazer District Scouting with Special Needs Course Director and I am her co-director. We have also been challenged by the Dan Beard Council Commissioner who attended to bring this type of training to the council level for all leaders. We’re taking it one small step at a time.

    Our troop is homeschoolers and special needs boys. One thing I can tell you is the boys learn from each other.

  6. What happens when the parents of a gay kid say “yes” to Scouting? Scouting tells them no.

  7. Bryan:

    As a 42 year veteran and former scoutmaster I identify with this story. I have my own to tell.

    And in answer to your question: There is NO other program available to youth today that can do more for ANY boy who cares to try, than the BSA. Period.

    Joseph DelPonte Chairman, Narragansett Council Merit Badge College Committee The College of Merit Badge Knowledge

  8. I worked with Special Needs children for my Eagle project in 1969. Started a Troop for my Junior and Senior year in HS and came back from college and started up the Troop again. That was in 1977 and now over 35 years later Troop 89 of Cumberland MD. is going strong. These scouts amaze me all the time. They work so hard on earning requirements. Never say never and are fearless. The Patrol Method is in place with the leaders as Patrol advisors. Many are getting old (no age limit for Scouts with Special Needs) but they still enjoy it. Only two Eagles in our history but about 5 in the works. That’s exciting!! Last weekend we camped on the deck of the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Va. Barring a little fear of heights we came out of the experience happy campers.
    Doug Schwab
    Troop 89
    Cumberland, MD.

  9. Both of my sons are extremely active in Scouts. Both of them hold leadership positions in their units and are so excited about all the opportunites Scouting affords. One is working on his Eagle rank in the troop and his Ranger award in the crew. The other is working on his Star rank and looking forward to October when he too can be a member of the crew. Both of them also have bipolar, are on the autism spectrum (formerly known as Asperger’s), have ADHD and some OCD (our younger son). Scouting has been one of their main means of socialization. They have learned so much, and I couldn’t be prouder of them, both as a mom of special needs boys and as the mom of two amazing Scouts who have bright futures ahead.
    Like Jeff above, both my husband (who is an Eagle and also has bipolar and Asperger’s) and I completed the diversity portion of our ticket teaching others about “invisible disabilities.” Tom worked with the youth, and I taught adults at a roundtable with a powerpoint that I created. I would highly suggest the book “Kids in the Syndrome Mix” by Dr. Martin Kutscher. As an educator, a Scouter and a mom, this is the best book that I have found for explaining so many different invisible disabilities in such an easy to understand way.

  10. While it is noble to bring scouting to boys with special needs……The average troop or pack simply does not have the resources to do so. Training is nonexistent, Volunteers are tough to come by…..and how many den leaders are going to sit thru another training course.

    Recent experiences with parents of potential Autistic scouts show they have the expectation that ALL OF US have the resources and training to deal with them. The deal breaker was when I told Mom and Dad one of them needed to come with him to every meeting and every event……

    Guess they were looking for a weekend off a month…….Never saw them again.

    • Bob, sorry to hear about your experiences with parents not chipping in, it’s a pattern regardless of of ability. The key to a well rounded kid IS parent participation, as you know we see it every day in Scouts. How many make it to Eagle without parental support? Sped kids need even more support just to participate let alone excel. I think it is fair and noble to expect the parents to be there. Training is a difficult one: you meet one autistic kid, you meet an autistic kid. No brush paints all. Autism covers a huge range of abilities, from gifted but awkward to non verbal and intellectually impaired. And yes, getting volunteers to take YP is hard enough. But I really don’t accept the average Troop and resources comment. There is no longer such thing as the average Troop, if indeed it existed at all. America is facing an epidemic of kids being diagnosed on the autistic spectrum: 1/88. Rates at our school for children on IEP run at 1/10. I also have time for the argument that many of our ADD kids are just being boys, and are a handful until properly diverted into something physical, though I know and respect many who would disagree.

      Just so you know where I am coming from, I have 3 kids, 2 sped, my eldest son is severe special needs. I was a Webelos leader and now an ASM.

      When struggling with a diagnosis parents turn to professionals who suggest every social development program they can think of in an attempt not just to actually help the child develop but to assist the parent in just ‘getting out there’. Professionals see the results with sped kids that committed Scouting families have within their equally committed communities. A child’s label tends to come at the lowest resolve of a parent, broken by the day to day struggle of coping with their child. They may have ‘tried’ softball ‘once’, till Johnny had a melt down putting on Suncream or the label in his shorts wouldn’t stop itching and the embarrassment made them flee. Scouting has the capacity to offer something to everyone, whether camping and cooking, a structured learning experience and expectations for the literal minded, concepts of civil responsibility or just interacting with other adults who are not immediate family. Programs can be modified, but you are right, not without the parents totally on board.

      Maybe the way to start within your Troop/Pack is to discuss this at Committee level, a be prepared moment, where you hash out guidelines for an amended program to be given to parents and what is required of them. Ask them what triggers Johnny’s melt downs, could be whistling, could be too many voices at a Pack meeting. Have a code word that lets Johnny remove himself to the bathroom or outside a classroom. Once expectations are laid out, including parent involvement, that can be handed out when someone enquires.

      As a pointer on facebook “Austim and scouting” page is really excellent, backed by autism speak, some nice printables. I personally will use these when teaching the disability awareness merit badge this summer in my Troop. Also pairing up new sped kids with Troop guides is a good use of a resource that is waiting to be tested.

  11. Great article. The joy of a parent when their child with special needs overcomes an obstacle through the scouting program is cannot be described in words. I’m my district’s special needs chair and my son is on the autism spectrum. The joy I felt when he successfully filled the SPL position, completed his Eagle Project, and earned his Eagle was so wonderful. Scouting helped in developing his social skills,, and gave him goals, and the opportunity to accomplish them. Autism & Scouting website & facebook page are awesome!!!! Some great resources include the Three Fires Council, St. Louis Council, & Denver Council. There are others, but these are the 3 main ones I use. Remember scouts with special needs can do the program, they just need understanding, and adult leadership willing to work with them.

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