Wednesday, 30 October 2019 14:48

Tips for Helping Youth with Special Needs Advance in Scouting

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Article submitted by Warren Wenner, Chair for the BSA National Special Needs Committee.

One of the most frequently asked questions the BSA National Special Needs and Disabilities Committee receives from district executives, leaders, and parents is: where do I go for help with advancement for my Scout with special needs? Well, the best answer may be right down the street at the Scout’s school. In fact, meeting with the Scout’s special education or reading specialist teacher at school could be the best answer.

These teachers work daily with students who have disabilities and know the challenges and needs of these individuals. Most Scouts who are in a special education program may have an ‘IEP,’ or Individualized Education Program. The IEP is a written document that is developed for each school child who is eligible for special education. It is created through a team effort and reviewed at least once a year. Parents have input into their child’s plan, and Scouting can be a part of that plan. Many school districts see the importance of what is being learned in classrooms that can be applied to the Scouting program and vice versa.

Provided with a general understanding of the current program in which a Scout is enrolled, a special education or reading specialist teacher may be helpful in planning what that Scout can achieve and the pace at which that Scout can accomplish the work. These teachers may also be able to help a unit committee break down the steps needed for the Scout to achieve the next rank or award.

Once lines of communication have been opened, Scout leaders may find that, in many cases, special education teachers have been doing advancement-related activities in their own classroom. For example, the Cooking Merit Badge. Many high school special education students are learning life skills, and learning to cook is one of those skills. Students have to learn about a healthy diet, menu planning, how to go shopping and eventually cook a meal. The same skills special education teachers are teaching in the classrooms are being taught in Scouting, which can reinforce the IEP for the Scout. Hand-in-hand, the unit committee working with special education teachers on a Scout’s IEP will enhance the Scout’s ability to learn and succeed in school, as well as the troop.

Similarly, Scouts who have physical disabilities may be working at school with their physical education teachers on adapted physical education skills. These teachers may also help the unit learn the limits of what the Scout can do when it comes to the physical activities of many requirements. For example, physical activities such as swimming, personal fitness, or hiking may have certain challenges. This teacher might be able to set limits and goals that a Scout can reach in a reasonable amount of time that could help the Scout complete the requirement(s).

Finally, don’t forget to ask the parents for advice and help. They know their child the best. Elisabeth Shelby, who has a PhD in Special Education and is a member of the National Special Needs and Disabilities Committee mentions, “I used to say that the parents know their child, and educators know techniques.” Parents, unit committee members, and educators should combine these two ingredients to enhance a Scout’s ability to achieve the highest possible level of learning success at home, at school, in Scouting— and beyond.

Scouting is a fantastic program for youth of all capabilities! If you’d like to learn more about growing your district by promoting Scouting to youth with special needs, attend a special membership conference held next January at the Florida Sea Base. Learn more here. Have any tips to add? Share in the comments below. 

Scouting Wire would like to thank Warren for submitting this story.

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