Special Needs Scouting Service Award Medal and Device

Preparing for Summer Camp: Disabilities and Special Needs

campsiteSummertime means summer camp for most Scouts. Every Scout wants to take part and, more importantly, have fun. This takes preparation, especially for Scouts with special needs.

The unit leader should take some time to think about each Scout as an individual and how each will react to summer camp routine. This is especially true of new Scouts who have not attended camp before. Identify roadblocks: features of camp life that prevent the Scout from participating or feeling comfortable. Make sure that one or more unit leaders watch for those roadblocks and are ready to help bring the challenge within reach of the Scout’s abilities.

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Include the Torch of Gold in Spring Council Recognitions

Torch of Gold Award medalThe Torch of Gold is a council-level distinguished award of the Boy Scouts of America to recognize adults for exceptional service and leadership in working with Scouts who have disabilities. Each council may recognize one Scouter per year with the award. Details are listed on the nomination form, available online.

The nominee must be a registered Scouter with at least three years of volunteer service supporting Scouting with disabilities. The service may be in any Scouting leadership capacity related to Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Venturers with disabilities, including educating other Scouters about disabilities and working with youth who have disabilities.

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When Food Becomes a Special Need

Campfire cookingWe’ve all encountered Scouts who are picky eaters because the menu is different from home and food is cooked in unfamiliar ways.  Most food aversions work themselves out because most kids will not willingly starve themselves. That is not always the case, and Scout leaders need to be receptive and address special cases. One special issue with food is sensory overload.  There are neurobiological disorders, including autism, where “ordinary” sensory input overwhelms the mind. Eating is a complex sensory experience because food has taste, smell, texture, and appearance.  Some Scouts have sensory issues that are so intense that they refuse to eat many types of foods, no matter how much you  encourage or reason with them. Parents in these situations tend to be reluctant  to ask for accommodations for their child.

Food aversions become a health and safety issue when there are not enough calories in the food that the Scout eats to sustain the Scout through the activity.  At the same time, we need to preserve the dignity of the Scout and minimize the attention that a food aversion draws. Ultimately, you must find enough compatible food for the outing.  Have a discreet and candid conversation with the parents to learn what foods work well at home and what foods are simply no-go.  For short-term outings and summer camp, it may be enough to allow the Scout to bring some familiar snacks from home to supplement the regular menu items.  High adventure trips with lightweight trail foods are another matter.  One alternative is to seek out lightweight versions of foods that are well received at home, such as instant mashed potatoes, packaged meats, or dehydrated fruits and vegetables.  Then, have the Scout’s family test drive the lightweight versions at home.  For freeze-dried foods, you can have a tasting event in advance of the trip for everyone in the group and use the results to accommodate the special needs.  A strategy for non-cooked meals is to issue a variety of pre-packaged foods that the Scouts can trade as needed to accommodate food aversions.  It is  okay to sacrifice nutritional balance for energy content during a limited term outing.

As always……Be Prepared!