Widgets Magazine

Mar 28, 2011

Autism: Scouts

Part seven in our story on Autism.  If you are new and would like to catch up start here.

So the question was, " How do I teach my autistic son about life in general? How do I give him goals and dreams?" The answer was Scouts. The problem was that he HATED scouts! He started as a Cub Scout when he was 8 years old. The den meetings were OK, but the pack meetings were terrible. He was afraid to get up in front of people. At first I let him stay in his seat and the cubmaster would bring his awards to him, but after a while that sort of favoritism was not sitting well with the other boys. So I forced him out of his seat when his name was called. A couple of times he threw an absolute tantrum on the floor, rolling and screaming and crying. Those were the days his dad would pick him up (he was too heavy for me) and carry him out in the hall until he could settle down. But after a while he started going up (as long as I went with him) and simply turning his back on the audience. 

He earned all of his cub awards and many arrowheads. By the time he became an 11-year-old scout I started pushing the merit badges. He was learning about all kinds of things and scouts was becoming a little easier. Then one day in the paper I saw a boy who had earned all the badges. I showed the article to my Dog Walker. I underestimated his desire for fame and recognition. He immediately set the goal to earn all 124 of the badges and he had to do it before his 18th birthday. Imagine my surprise when I started looking through the list! This was not going to be easy…Aviation, Water Sports, Golf, Reptile and Amphibian Study…the Scoutmaster thought he’d pull a fast one and he even listed me as a counselor on that one (he knew I hated snakes!). 

We started slowly, working on the ones he needed for his Eagle first. Because it was difficult for him to learn in a straight line, we started making scrapbooks for each badge. We took lots of pictures and he copied thousands of words out of the Merit Badge handbooks to help him when he went to visit his counselors. He would work on one for a little while, then switch off and start on another one. Sometimes it took him a couple of years to finish one up, but because he had a record, it wasn’t hard for him to come back later and finish. He earned many badges at various scout camps, but I made him work the hardest at home. 

Some of these badges were definitely life-changing, like getting a dog for the Dog Care badge and signing up for band so he could earn the Bugling badge. Sometime I’ll tell you about our specific adventures earning other badges, like our trip to Denver for the Whitewater badge. For the past six years, earning merit badges has been a huge deal around here. He currently has 120 badges and only 8 months until his 18th birthday. I’d like to say that 124 is still the magic number, but you know how scouts likes to yank us around. There are currently 130 that he is eligible to earn. At the last Court of Honor he actually got up and spoke to all the boys about the four historic merit badges that were only available for 2010. He encourages the other boys to work hard and get their own awards. 

1910 Historic Merit Badges

He loves scouts and any time I ask him to do something hard he will say, "Is it for a merit badge?" If I can figure out a way that it is, I don’t have any arguments from him. So the question is, "Can an autistic boy set goals and achieve them?" The answer is, "Absolutely!"


Sara Hammond said...

I love these posts about Autism and how you have made it work your large family. I know I saw a comment that somebody was getting bored, but to them I say "you are more than welcome to come back another day. You don't HAVE to read this post!" I am sure that these posts will be helpful to somebody more than they could ever express, so on their behalf and mine I say "Thank you."

The Kooky Queen--Rachel said...

Wow, so awesome that you were able to get him involved like that. Scouting is such an inspired, amazing program. I love this post!

Tom Pitts said...

My sons are both heavily involved in Scouting, as are my husband and I. They have been all 3 (yep, hubby too!) been diagnosed with bipolar AND Asperger's. My husband is an Eagle, and we have found that the program offers the boys the opportunity to grow and develop as young men of character who are comfortable in their own skin and are able to lead others (albeit a painfully slow lesson!).
As part of my Wood Badge ticket I am putting together a list of mental challenges that many youth in the Scouting program face and ways to help them overcome those challenges. Would it be okay for me to quote you and cite your blog for my teaching plan?

Tom Pitts said...

btw--I wasn't able to log in to my account, so I sent my comment through my husband's account. My name is Malinda Pitts, and my e-mail is mjpitts_308@yahoo.com. :)


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