Written by: Andria Luo, FCSN Voices Senior Youth Reporter
A common misconception is that special needs kids don’t belong in mainstream programs because they are not able to learn skills quickly, do tasks independently, or benefit from the program. With advocates pushing for more inclusivity for neurodiverse individuals, many programs nowadays have started offering assistance in the form of accommodations and modifications for special needs individuals. However, one major obstacle comes from the parents themselves. Many parents still worry that their kids will not be able to participate meaningfully, other kids won’t want to be with their kids, and it will be a negative experience for all involved. This is the inspirational story of Lydia who garnered the courage and strength to let her son Alex join their local Boy Scout troop. It was not easy for Lydia, and Alex also faced many challenges, but through meaningful participation over the years, and the support of troop members and other parents, Lydia saw Alex achieve goals that were beyond her expectation.
Alex was diagnosed with autism in preschool, ever since he was very young, Lydia knew he was different from other children. Although Alex has a friendly and social disposition, his speech delays hindered his ability to make friends. Because he didn’t speak much and often had trouble understanding instructions more than a few sentences long, joining play groups was very difficult. Alex rarely had the opportunity to interact with neurotypical peers outside of his special education class., so when they chanced upon the recruiting booth of Boy Scout Troop 468, Lydia saw scouting as a way for her son to release energy and interact with other kids while learning practical skills and independent habits that would allow him to succeed later on in life. She reasoned that the scouts offered a sense of community and kindness that was difficult to find elsewhere, thus they jumped at the chance to join.
Boy Scouts eventually became a fun activity for both Lydia and Alex, despite the initial challenges they faced. Alex enjoyed participating in activities and attending boy scouts meetings but he was not able to participate fully and independently. Because boy scout activities typically require less parental involvement, Alex sometimes found it difficult to follow directions and keep up, especially in activities like lighting fires and using knives that required more finesse. “You have to participate a lot versus other parents, which is really easy. They just drop off the kids and they can survive. My kid cannot do that. So I have to be there for him always,” Lydia said. At times, she considered dropping out, concerned that they were holding the patrol back and stressed from the demanding workload. Ultimately, the other parents were very supportive and constantly encouraged Lydia to stay. “They said ‘Don’t quit, don’t quit! You’re doing fine! He’s awesome; did you see how much he improved?’ They gave me a lot of energy,” Lydia said. Two to three years later, after she understood more about how boy scouts was run, she began to feel more confident in her role and even started helping out other children. Her extensive experience dealing with children with learning differences allowed her to notice small details that other parents easily missed, which let her provide for others’ needs as well as Alex’s.
Lydia and Alex’s presence in the troop helped educate more people about neurodiversity. There were times when newer members were insensitive or disrespectful to Alex, but experienced senior troopers stepped in to defend Alex and educate the younger members. Being in a safe environment working along supportive peers, Alex grew to love scouting and take his responsibilities as a scout seriously. He would often read through his scoutbook and discuss how to achieve his next goal. Now, soon to be a senior trooper himself, Alex will be able to help to guide new troopers the way his seniors helped him when he was new. By constantly striving to do their best and helping others in areas they personally struggled in previously, Alex and Lydia proved that neurodivergent individuals and their families are not only able to hold their own, but also able to give back to their community. “It’s actually educating the scouts, letting them know they are in this world. There are some special needs [individuals], they are different from you. Not everybody’s that perfect,” Lydia said.
After experiencing the joys of her son being a part of a Boy Scouts troop, Lydia encourages other parents of neurodivergent individuals to enroll their children in similar activities. The Boy Scouts organization has a long history of working with scouts with disabilities, providing many directions, resources, and support. “Experience has shown that a Scout with a disability can have a positive impact on a Scout unit, and the other Scouts take great pride in that Scout’s accomplishments.” Even though the beginning may be tiring or difficult, after some years, “you will see it’s worth it. It’s totally worth it,” Lydia said.
FCSN will be forming a scouting unit dedicated to special needs very soon and will need the support of parents in running activities. If you are interested in obtaining more information, please contact David Ma at firstname.lastname@example.org