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Special Needs Scouting
Adventure Programs for Youth Ages 7-20
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- Where Can A Special Needs Child Go For Fun, Friendship, Achievement, Learning And Adventure?
While most other youth programs are competition sports based operations that reward kids of exceptional talent and physical ability, they are not much fun for the average kids and even less so for those with special needs who have an impossible challenge of keeping up with the speed and other physical challenges of the game. But Scouting is Different!
A big leader in this field is the Boy Scouts Of America [BSA]. There are similar organizations in other countries of the world.
1. Scouting is Individual Achievement Based
The Goal Of Scouting is to create a Fun Format for individual character growth. Activities occur in small groups where everyone has an opportunity for full participation. Each scout has the opportunity for maximum participation regardless of ability.
2. Scouting is Fun / Cool / Awesome / Etc!
When daily life and schoolwork is full of hardships, discouragements and disappointments, and your personal troubles are magnified because of your unique challenges - than there is all the more reason why everyone should have at least one thing to look forward to each week to put a smile on their face. Be proud to be a Scout.
3. Scouting is Safe!
Scout leaders and program counselors have access to a wide range of training, guidelines, resources, facilities and experts that allow to them to create a safe environment for all youth to participate in fun adventures and activities. Many of the activities include special safety instruction. Their Be Prepared motto encourages safety awareness.
Most young men relish the opportunity to handle and operate a firearm and our autistic boy was no different. When we made the big decision to let him do the Rifle Shooting Merit Badge, we were very concerned about the safety of the program. However this merit badge has very demanding safety requirements, and our son carefully studied all of the rules and got a perfect score on their safety test. When it came time to shoot he took at least twice as long to pull the trigger as the other scouts, but his shooting was nonetheless quite accurate and easily earned the badge.
4. Accomplishment Rewards
Scouting programs feature rank advancement awards, merit badges, activity pins, participation patches and other unique awards to help recognize and promote personal progress. Every participant can feel honestly feel proud in their achievements.
Additionally, many of the activities in themselves are their reward where can scout enjoy the fruits of their labors (building a tower, cooking a meal, pitching a tent, create corny jokes, etc.) or otherwise build another happy memory to take with them for the rest of their lives.
This reward system is a powerful incentive to encourage individuals (and especially those with special needs) to learn the important life skill of setting, working on and completing important life goals.
5. Special Need Accommodations
The scouting program has an allowance in place for when certain rank advancement requirements are beyond the capability of person with a special needs. In those situations a petition can be made to use "alternative" requirements.
However, as much as possible, I've strongly encouraged everyone to do their best on the core requirements, because in real life there might be no alternatives.
5. High Mentor Ratio
Most Learning and Adventure Activities take place in small groups called either Cub Scout Dens or Boy Scout Patrols with two or more mentors. Typically you can see a strong ratio of 1:6 (a lot better than in public schools). This ratio improves even more where there is strong parent/volunteer participation.
6. Learn Sound Values
More than any other youth program, scouting strong teaches sound values. One example is the Scout Law: A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.
7. Learn Life Skills
A lot of advancement requirements and scouting activities center on learning important life skills, such as cooking, outdoor survival, navigations, finances, physical fitness, personal management, citizenship, communications and much, much more.
This program is very valuable to young people with learning challenges to help them better understand important life skills that everyone else may just assume for granted. Improvement in these skills goes a long ways in preparing to be adults that can live happily and independent.
8. Merit Badge Program
BSA features Over 130 Merit Badge Programs to help young men discover different talents, hobbies and careers. Many prominent individuals got their start in their career of choice by doing the Merit Badge.
I've found this program to be of especial benefit to young people in the autism spectrum (and/or other learning disabilities) that rely on a Good Social Story to understand key ideas in life that typical people would take for granted. Most each Merit Badge Program constitutes a good Social Story appropriate to the teenage years. Some are easy, and others are a quite a bit more involved.
One of the most memorable boy scout summer camps I've attended was at Camp Emerson in 2004, when a young scout with Downs Syndrome, and escorted by a loving parent, became the star performer of the camp by earning a prestigious quantity of merit badges. When he was receiving his special recognitition on that last day, I also saw many of the staff overcome with emotion at the realization that they each had played a role in his great success.
9. Learn To Do Hard Things
This is probably the most important lesson a young person can learn, especially when you carry your unique burdens. In scouting you will find a wide range of activities and requirements, some easy and many not quite so, that will push to extend you outside of your comfort zone.
Doing this will help a young person to learn some key lesson:
When my autistic son started work on his Eagle Service Project (and it was a complex project) I was concerned that he did not have that many friends that would help him out. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw on his final report a list of 34 friends, mentors, classmates, family, fellow scouts and others on the work list, many of whom had provided significant assistance critical to its success.
10. Structure & Organization
Even scouting is known for doing a variety of outdoor activities, it also has very well established Structure & Organization. This provides a consistent foundation which many youth with special needs find beneficial for personal development. A consistent weekly activity night, uniform dress code, program opening routine, and clearly defined goals may be helpful to fortify an individual's comfort zone.
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