One Wood Badge candidate's opinions on what equipment to take camping (or not)


The goal of Ticket 5 is to enhance Scouting diversity by creating a reference for inclusion of children with autism in Cub Scouting.


Diversity in Scouting
  As part of the Wood Badge adult leader training, participants are required to complete five "tickets," one of which involves diversity in Scouting. For this topic, I have chosen to explore an issue that I have gained some experience during my tenure as a Cub Scout leader—how to accommodate a child with autism and help maximize the extent to which he can participate in Scouting. As most people are now aware, autism is a condition which affects a considerable number of children, the majority of whom are boys. This latter fact only strengthens my interest in exploring how boys with autism can be included, and benefit from the Scouting experience.

My older son was fortunate to be a part of a large, well-established Cub Scout Pack associated with his elementary school. He joined as a Tiger Cub and completed the full five year Cub Scout Program before crossing over into Boy Scouts. In his second year (Wolf), a boy with autism joined the Den. For the purposes of this discussion, I will refer to him as Greg. Those familiar with autism know that there are varying degrees of autism, and Greg's was not a particularly mild case. Greg's challenges included difficulty socializing with others, impulsiveness, and difficulty remaining engaged during activities. Greg also exhibited some truly remarkable traits, like the ability to look at any flag that might be presented to him and identify which country it represents.

In fulfillment of the diversity ticket, I worked closely with Greg's mother to identify five primary observations that might help others integrate children with autism into Cub Scouting. These observations are intended to benefit everyone involved: the Den Leaders, the parents of children with autism, other Den parents, the Scouts in the Den, and of course, the child himself.

Observation #1: Early Introduction

Greg did not join our den until the Wolf year, but it was early enough for him to become an integral part of the group. In my experience as a leader for two different dens, it takes time for young Scouts to bond with each other and to begin exhibiting cohesion as a group. As Scouting's founder Lord Baden–Powell said, "The patrol system is not one method in which Scouting for boys can be carried on. It is the only method." Camaraderie takes time to build, and the sooner you get started, the sooner it happens.

While this dynamic is true for all groups, teams, and organizations, the notion of early introduction was particularly important for Greg as a child with autism joining Scouting. At the ages of seven years old, the boys were not acutely aware that Greg was different, and readily accepted him as he was—just another young Scout arbitrarily assigned to a den. For Greg, however, this early introduction established a setting and a routine that were of critical importance to his long-term inclusion and individual success in Scouting.

Autism is characterized, in part, by a strong reliance upon consistency in order to feel comfortable and secure. Change and unfamiliarity are particularly disruptive to the child's well-being. By introducing Greg to Scouting at such a young age, it more easily became a familiar part of his world— that did not create intolerable levels of angst. Greg's established comfort level with Scouting enabled him to experience many unfamiliar things within the context of a familiar group of people and through a familiar routine. All scouts benefit from this arrangement. Arguably, scouts with autism benefit from it even more because of their heightened reliance upon familiarity in order to function.

Observation #2: Individual Steps

In its entirety, Scouting can be viewed as an overwhelming series of activities, challenges, commitments, and obligations. For those who have been through the experience of Scouting, it is amazing to look back on the sheer magnitude of what has been accomplished, and all of the steps that were involved. For any Scout, it is advisable to approach and climb this mountain one step at a time. For a child with autism, it is absolutely necessary.

Just as unfamiliarity is overwhelming for a child with autism, so too are activities that seem overly complicated. Rather than focus more directly on an end goal, as one might ordinarily do to motivate a child, a child with autism requires greater emphasis on the individual steps that are required to achieve the same end goal. Steps often require explanation, demonstration and repetition, and always lots of positive reinforcement when steps are completed successfully.

Some studies on autism maintain that children with autism, especially the very young, do not think using words. While many children tend to talk themselves through complex tasks, children with autism often have difficulty communicating with others, and even with themselves. This theory supports the assertion made by Greg's mother that he learns in very visual ways. This suggests that when teaching Scout groups that involve children with autism, one should emphasize demonstration and hands-on activities.

Observation #3: Pacing Progress

Related to the previous observation, pacing progress is also critical to the success of a Scout with autism. Just as complex tasks must be broken down into a logical series of steps, so too must they be carefully paced so as not to overwhelm the child. A steady pace is more predictable, and therefore, less likely to induce feelings of uncertainty.

As Greg's mother pointed out, all three of the previous observations are part of a broader notion of structure that is key to the child's well–being. Most parents probably agree that structure is important for their children. For children with autism, however, it is necessary. Structure is the basis for their ability to function. Structure pertains to the temporal world—structure of a routine, the physical world—structure of an environment, and the interpersonal world—structure of relationships. Deviation from established structures can cause reactions ranging from mild distraction to total melt down.

Observation #4: Buy–In

The fourth observation, buy–in, is one that might be taken for granted with most children, but should not be overlooked in the case of a child with autism. Like all children, a child with autism will engage and respond more favorably if he is actually interested in and enjoying his activities. Greg's mother continually gauged her son's interest level, not just in Scouting in general, but in the specific activities that held his interest overall. First among these for Greg was the camping. He really enjoyed being outdoors, cooking outdoors, eating outdoors, etc. Greg's mother also understood just how much of these activities were appropriate for her son, and would plan their departure accordingly. On two-night campouts as Webelos, one night and a full day of activity was the right amount of camping for Greg. By placing emphasis on the activities that Greg enjoyed most, his mother was able to keep him engaged through other activities that Scouting entails.

To paraphrase, Lord Baden–Powell, Scouting is supposed to be fun, with a purpose. As parents, we often focus on the purpose part of this equation - appreciating the merits of Scouting in terms like learning, growth, maturity, skills, and integrity. Obviously, these are all wonderful aspirations. But unless the purpose can be achieved in a manner that is enjoyable, the value of Scouting to the boys will be greatly reduced. This is as true for children with autism as it is for all of the Scouts.

Observation #5: Patience

As the last of these five observations, patience is arguably the most important. As can be gleaned from the previous observations, Greg's mother exhibited great patience with her child in order to help maximize the extent to which he could participate. Always gentle and attentive, she helped to direct his attention in ways that were sensitive and kind, and that did not diminish him in the eyes of the other boys. By the same token, the Scout leader must be prepared to behave similarly.

During our den meetings, Greg would occasionally interject with statements or questions that did not always make sense to the rest of us. It did, however, provide affirmation to all of us that he was engaged in our activities and that he was processing information in his own way. Regardless of how he interjected, we always acknowledged his comments and questions, responding as well as we could and carrying on with the agenda. This approach was not only intended to benefit Greg, but also to model for the other boys how to be patient, being respectful of Greg and his differences.


While it is my hope that these five observations might be beneficial to anyone who has a child with autism involved in Scouting, there is one more observation that I feel compelled to mention. Unlike the first five observations, the sixth observation does not pertain entirely to the child with autism, but to the other boys in the den. When Greg first joined, all of the boys in the Den were still very young—about seven years old. Initially, it did not seem particularly obvious to the other boys that Greg was different, and they all became accustomed to one another. As they got older, however, Greg's differences became more apparent. We as parents took advantage of this opportunity to explain individually to our sons why Greg is different, taking care to note his remarkable traits along with the others. Between the parental discussions and their own established relationships with Greg, all of the boys seemed to have no trouble accepting Greg for who he is. I am very pleased that all of our boys, not just Greg, benefitted from his successful inclusion in our den.

How successful was Greg's experience as a part of our den? When I became Den Leader, Greg's mother and I agreed that we would involve him to the extent that he was interested, and to the extent that he was capable of participating. At the Webelos level, I don't know that either of us expected him to complete the majority of the Activity Badges. After all, only eight of the 20 badges are required to achieve Cub Scouting's highest honor, the Arrow of Light. With the steadfast, yet gentle determination of his mother, Greg not only completed his Arrow of Light, he was also one of an even more select group of boys who earned their Super Achiever Awards, completing all 20 of the Activity Badges that can be accomplished as Webelos. In a very memorable ceremony, Greg crossed over into Boy Scouts along with my son and others from our den, and they are all now working toward that next highest honor at the Boys Scout level—Eagle Scout.