Autism and The Eagle Scout Award

2020….what can I say?

In some ways the last year has dragged on and in others it has flown by.

While our lifestyle didn’t change too drastically – I jokingly say “who knew our normal life was called quarantine?” it was a year largely focused on being home. And for service related organizations who seek to help outwardly, that can be challenging.

But, last spring, my son did a thing.

A big thing.

When I think back to when his scouting career began, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge where he was in his development back then.

He was largely non-verbal in expressive language. He was overwhelmed by his sensory environment a majority of the time.

Many meetings ended in meltdowns as he reached the end of his limits.

But, his dad was there every step of the way.

We learned early on that with our support, he could navigate challenging situations in scouting successfully. Even if they were hard or stretched him, he did it and the growth we saw and he felt was amazing to watch.

In the last 10 years, he has also not only navigated his scouting career but he navigated the biomedical course that would end in him losing his autism diagnosis at the school level.

As he made more improvements in his physical health and wellness, we saw leaps in his neurological development as well.

Conversely, the more engaged he became in scouting, the more growth we saw.

After summer camps, he came home taller and more independent.

That first year of summer camp I was sure I would get a call from my husband asking me to come pick him up.

I was wrong.

Yes honey, I just said I was wrong. And I was happy about that.

For us, seeing him blossom, expand his knowledge and interests, gain friendships, become a leader that others look up to, it is the ultimate blessing!

So when he reached the point in his scouting career when it came time to pick a project, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He loved reading and has been an avid reader forever. He wanted to help support other children with that through a Tiny Library. You can read more about this topic, including get plans to build your own or register your on the national registry here.

And then, his troop was contacted by our local elementary school about a teacher retiring and they wanted to find a scout to build a tiny library in her honor!

Hello! How perfect?

So he started looking at plans, creating his design, documenting his project, writing up the proposal, getting it approved. Those were challenging, requiring attention to detail, careful thought, paperwork.

There were parts of the process he balked at, where he wanted to give up.

Then he would think about the kids that would be helped, the love of reading he enjoyed and how some kids didn’t have access to books, especially during a pandemic with no in-person schools, library closures, etc.

So he kept working. He drew up the plans, solicited our local Home Depot store for assistance with a donation of supplies. They so thoughtfully and graciously donated all of the materials, we are so grateful.

Then he got to work. A big part of the Eagle Scout award involves leading others in the achievement of the project. So, he asked just a couple of other scouts (his sister being one) to help him so that we could maintain proper social distancing and keep it a safe environment for everyone.

He asked one other family to come over and help build this, outside of course.

They worked hard and navigated safe distancing and all of the other proper Covid-19 precautions.

And then, it was delivered to the school, with a plaque commemorating the teacher who is retiring. Books were placed.

And maybe tears were shed. OK definitely tears were shed.

When we were given a diagnosis of autism, it came with a grim view of his future. One that didn’t include living independently or achieving such goals as earning Eagle Scout.

While we never believed that our son’s potential could be determined by those words or the limitations that world often places on individuals with disabilities, to see him crush this high award was a joy and a gift.

On my honor, I will do my best

To do my duty, to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law;

To help other people at all times;

To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

This achievement was a team effort and the support from some of the scout leaders made a profound difference.

Do you have a child with autism or other disabilities who wants to get involved in scouting?

Here are some tips we found helpful along the way.

  • Get involved. As leaders, we had more control over his sensory experiences or knew the plan ahead of time and could prepare him. Over the years, it used to be that changes in the expected were really (really) challenging for him. Knowing what the plan was and prepping him was a huge help. And that doesn’t have to mean this becomes a second job for you or that you lead the troop! While my husband leads our Scouts BSA troop and I lead my daughter’s Girl Scout troop, I LOVE having parents involved in varying aspects over the year. You don’t have to run meetings or devote a ton of time to get involved in some way.
  • Talk to the other leaders about how your child can participate. More people than you think want to help, sometimes they just don’t know how. Other leaders can also be on the lookout for a sensory meltdown, help provide additional activities or accommodations so that your child can participate in a way that works for them.
  • Communicate with council for events/camp experiences. This was big related to food. My son eats a gluten, dairy, and soy free diet. Council events (including summer camp) have always made accommodations to his dietary needs. And listen, sticking to diet is just better for us all, trust me on that! While we always bring options for him, it has been nice not to have to!
  • Get to know the other parents. I have been so touched by other parents who, knowing our son’s challenges, triumphs, and needs, look out for him in little ways. That parent who brings desserts to the potlucks and always makes a version he can have, it seems so little but to our family, it means the world to have my son included and not feeling left out.
  • Each troop can vary depending on the leaders who are involved so if something doesn’t seem like a good fit, keep looking, try other troops. But I will say discriminatory behavior is not a scouting value! Over the years we even contemplated starting our own troop but in the end we found an existing one that became like family. It should feel like a good fit and should honor and support your child. The experiences of learning outdoor skills, concepts of leave no trace, helping to make the community and world at large a better place, skills like outdoor cooking, wilderness survival, camping, those should be available to every child who wants to engage.

If your child is interested in scouting and has a disability, you can read about their policies here.

While we may look back on 2020 with mixed emotions and certainly sadness over the loss we as a world have faced, I will always see this as one of our bright spots in the year.