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.

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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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Key Ingredients to Great Summer Camp

Reprinted from the Spring 2017 Abilities Digest

Contributed by a camp staff alum

Tent among the treesCommunication and teamwork are the key ingredients to a great summer camp experience for Scouts with special needs.

It’s been 30 years since I last worked on summer camp staff, but some of the most vivid memories I have are working with the Scouts and leaders of Troop 191 from the Widener Memorial School in Philadelphia. This troop of amazing men with various disabilities; both young and old, joined us for our first week of camp each season and it was as meaningful an experience for the staff as it was for the campers.

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