Severe and Unpredictable Behavior

Diagram of the human brainSevere behavior takes many forms, from physical violence to seizures to unexpected, uninterruptible slumber. We adapt our activities to reduce the risk and impact, but we can’t always predict such incidents. How can we give young people the Scouting experience when they are subject to severe and unpredictable behavior?

For example, a Star Scout with a sleeping disorder wants to take part in National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT), a week-long experience for Scouts and Venturers. The training is run by a volunteer group of adults and youth. The Scout might – or might not – suffer from a sleeping episode. Should he attend despite the risk? Would an episode put him at risk? How would an episode affect his course participation? Would an episode interfere with the course or its participants?

This question – and possible answers – apply to many other advanced Scouting activities.

The first step is to contact the volunteer leaders for the NYLT course. Each council operates its own youth leader training: contact the local council office to get in touch with the leaders. Discuss the youth’s special situation and how it could affect his experience in NYLT.

In this case, the Scout participates in most troop activities. The troop works around the occasions when he can’t wake up. The Scout, parents, and NYLT leaders must consider how this might affect his experience in NYLT and that of his patrol-mates.

Managing risks to the participant

In many cases risks to the participant are managed by a parent or personal care attendant (PCA) authorized to help with possible episodes. A young man with a hard-to-control seizure disorder took part in a canoeing high adventure a few years ago: he paddled with his PCA and with seizure medication. The high adventure base was directly involved in this decision. The Star Scout’s sleeping disorder might not need a parent or attendant, but the NYLT staff needs to take part in that decision.

Effects on participation

If the Star Scout’s sleeping disorder arises during his participation, he sleeps through course activities, but isn’t necessarily put at risk. Instead, he loses part of his participation. This has a severe effect on a trek that involves daily movement: a single Scout can’t stay behind and try to catch up. This also impacts NYLT participation: each day covers 15-20% of the training.

Effects on the other participants

While it is fair to expect fellow Scouts to help accommodate a Scout with special needs, it isn’t fair to compromise other Scouts’ experience. In NYLT, a sleeping episode might prevent the Scout from working on patrol tasks and projects, which compromises the patrol’s experience. The impact may be more serious if an episode delays a trek.

Strategies for Accommodation

The Star Scout’s participation in NYLT might be addressed by one of the following:

  1. If acceptable to the NYLT leadership, arrange for the Scout to attend. If an episode interferes with his participation, he may leave the course early. The Scout has a chance of benefiting from the entire program, depending on the likelihood of a severe episode. If an episode interferes, he receives part of the training’s benefit.
  2. Another solution is to ask the NYLT staff if they are willing to have the Scout involved as a part-time participant by offering him some of the information from the course. Under this scenario he could be there during the instructional periods but not be part of the NYLT Troop or Patrols.
  3. Another possibility is to wait until the Scout becomes an adult and he can take Wood Badge leadership training. The Scout’s disorder may be easier to manage as he gets older.

None of these are a perfect solution. We welcome suggestions and experiences of other Scouters who try to accommodate severe behavior.