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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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!

Sign Language for Scouting Events

signingDeaf and hard of hearing Scouts, Scouters and family members present new challenges for many units.  Units, districts and councils aren’t legally obligated to provide a sign language interpreter for deaf participants, and often can’t afford a professional, certified interpreter. Yet we want to include everyone in the Scouting experience. We benefit both deaf and hearing participants when we make accommodations. These can range from pre-printed materials and visual aids to American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. 

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Jamboree With Disabilities

2017 Jamboree Disabilities Awareness Challenge Staff PatchScott Hellen, a National Jamboree staffer with limited mobility, shares observations on his Jamboree experience.

We all have preconceived expectations of what our first time on staff at a National Jamboree will be like. I was looking forward to working hundreds of Scouts from around the country and abroad as they came through the Disabilities Awareness Challenge, dAC. I also wanted to meet the adult Scouters that came from various locations and diverse backgrounds to serve as dAC staff. I learned fast that reality does not always meet one’s expectations.

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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.

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Accommodations For Scouts

Skit night around the campfireA typical troop has Scouts across the spectrum of behavior and maturity. About one in eight of these Scouts may have a special need or disability that calls for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) at school. When we accommodate the latter, we help more typical but less mature Scouts as well. Accommodations often fall into five categories: Timing, Scheduling, Setting, Presentation, and Response. We examine these below.

Be sure to accommodate Scouts when completing advancement requirements. While written requirements must be followed to the letter, accommodations may be used where appropriate. For example, a list might not need to be a written list, and the Scout might not be the one actually writing things down.

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