What a great start to our year. We know that Scouting appeals to all, including young people with special needs including Autism. Because of the wide scope of our youth program and it being based on the areas of personal growth and personal progression, increasing numbers of young people with autism and other special needs are joining Scouting..
We all know that the success of any Program requires us to Be prepared, Be prepared and Be prepared. There are some simple strategies we can use to assist in this regard which will benefit all young people.
- Having a simple schedule that can be shared with the Patrol Leader and youth which outlines the program for the meeting. This means providing a set of pictures or words that detail a simple outline – parade, inspection, game, knotting, game, talk, patrol time and final parade.
- Many people with autism are visual thinkers. Some think in pictures. So help the youth by providing these. Avoid long strings of verbal instructions. Some youth with autism have problems with remembering the sequence. Pictures can jog the memory. There are useful apps that can assist in this regard.
- If the youth can read, write the instructions down on a piece of paper. Keep these simple and no more than four parts.
- Some children with autism are good at drawing, art and computer programming. These talent areas should be encouraged. Scouting develops young people’s talents. Talents can be turned into skills that can be used for future life activities and employment.
- Some autistic children get fixated on one subject such as numbers or maps. The best way to deal with fixations is to use them to motivate Scout test work. Share this with the Patrol and you will be amazed at the ideas they generate.
- Sometimes, loud sounds like the whistle blowing, bell or yelling and screaming will hurt similar to a dentist’s drill hitting a nerve. Children with autism need to be protected from sounds that hurt their ears. Anticipate the noises that may cause problems such as the PL’s whistle at Parades, PA systems, buzzers, and the sound of chairs scraping on the floor. These may be minimised by stuffing them with tissues or duct tape. Scraping chairs can be silenced by placing slit tennis balls on the ends of the legs or installing carpet. The fear of a dreaded sound can cause bad behaviour. If a child covers his ears, it is an indicator that a certain sound hurts his ears. Talk to the parents about desensitisation ideas.
- Some autistic people are bothered by visual distractions and fluorescent lights. They can see the flicker of the electricity. If the lights cannot be avoided, use the newest bulbs you can get as new bulbs flicker less.
Please contact our team should you need any assistance in working with young people with special needs.
Peter Blatch OAM
Deputy Chief Commissioner Youth Program