Friday, January 7, 2011

Autism and Scouting - A Special Shout Out

If you didn't already know from my shameless promotion, my husband John at Life and Times of John Krejcha writes a regular blog with tales of Krejcha family life. His blog is more of a journal of our daily lives than mine is.  Although sometimes our daily topics are similar, such as when we're talking about a special occasion or a memorable event in our lives, often we go down very different paths with our writing.

Tonight John wrote a blog about his 10 favorite Scouting events that he has participated in with our oldest son, Justin.  In about a year and a half, we look forward to Ryan joining into scouting as well.  That isn't until first grade though. (Ryan is finishing up preschool this year.)

Justin joined scouting back in 2nd grade when we were still living in California.  A program had just started at the elementary school and as Justin didn't really know too many kids outside the classroom, we thought it would be a positive experience for him.

John quickly became involved as Assistant Den Leader to Justin's new Wolf den. When we moved the next summer from California to Washington, we thought we'd encourage Justin to get involved with scouting in the fall since he was new to the school and it would give him a chance to meet some other boys and hopefully make some new friends.  Socially, we were actually hoping it might help the rest of our family too.

Rather unexpectedly, after about a month into the school year, the leader for Justin's Bear Den resigned and John was asked to step up and be a leader.  Ryan was about 17 months at the time.  It was shortly before we started sensing that something might be different but it would be another 8 months or so before Ryan was diagnosed with Autism and then another 10 months before Justin diagnosed with Asperger's, an autism spectrum disorder.

At the time John was asked to step up, I was a bit nervous as to how much time his leadership position would take.  We had recently moved here and our business had been shutdown for a couple months in the summer.  We were heading into our first Christmas season and being in online retail, it's a lot of long hours.

Still, I knew this was something that was quite important because if John didn't step up, it was likely that Justin might quit scouting and we really didn't want that since we knew there was a lot of potential for him to grow and acquire life skills, friendships, understanding of teamwork and dedication to earning badges and participating in service projects.

John became the leader of Den 10 and was their leader until Justin and his denmates crossed over to Boy Scouts in Justin's last trimester of 5th grade.

John talks about autism and scouting a lot in his blog.  He (and I) are very proud of Justin and all he has accomplished.  While in Cub Scouts, he earned his Arrow of Light and Religious Emblem and of course a lot of other patches and belt loops as well.

In Boy Scouts, he spent his first full week at camp in late June, early July 2010, two nights of which he was alone without John there.  (This was a HUGE deal and the event in scouting that Justin is most proud of.)  At Camp Meriwether he earned badges for Orienteering, Soil and Water Conservation and Oceanography. Most first year scouts take on easier badges to start out with like basket weaving or Indian Lore but Justin chose a challenge and we are so proud of his rise.

Being on the autism spectrum and being a Cub Scout and Boy Scout has its challenges but there are so many growth opportunities for children to succeed.  I was a Girl Scout myself both as a Brownie and a Junior and at the time of course, I was an undiagnosed Aspie.  I have many memories I can now look back upon through Aspie colored glasses and say, "AHA".... no wonder I was so freaked out about outhouses! (Yuck! Still am!!) Selling those Girl Scout cookies was a lot of fun though!  I just loved chatting it up with the adults.

With Justin there are sensory issues, food issues and social issues that come up regularly but with the support of John as Assistant Scoutmaster and faith in himself and God, Justin is becoming more and more independent.  Justin is currently a Tenderfoot working toward Second Class.  Someday he wants to be an Eagle Scout. Will he make it there?  If he wants to, I have every reason to believe that he will.

My husband John has felt a calling to help children with ASDs (Autism, Asperger's, PDD-NOS) and other special needs find success in scouting.  He is thinking of writing a book for parents and scouts that would help introduce them to the benefits of scouting and show them just how inclusive scouting can be when there are leaders that are well-trained, parents that are motivated to partner with the leaders and a child who aspires to greater heights.

Recently John started a Facebook Group called "Autism and Scouting".  It is small but growing and open to anyone worldwide who is interested in Boy Scouting or Girl Scouting and/or has a child, relative or knows someone with an autism spectrum disorder (diagnosed or not).  Leaders, scouts, parents and prospective scouts are all encouraged to join.  In the USA, scouting is separated by gender but in many countries, the scouts are mixed together.  John's Facebook Group is inclusive and we invite you to stop by and take part in what we hope will be progressive conversation and great support.  Your input is encouraged. - 
Autism and Scouting

Thanks so much for checking it out.  Even if you don't join, you're welcome to stop by and/or refer your friends who you think might have an interest. Should you be involved with children of scouting age, we hope you will consider this great opportunity for building social skills, creating friendships, learning leadership skills and trying out new adventures.

In just a couple weeks, Justin gets to go on a snow tubing overnight adventure with his Boy Scout pack.  Then a month or so after that, he gets to go sleep in an ice cave.  How COOL is that!  I have to say, I'm a bit envious of Dad and Justin for getting to go on those adventures!  Maybe it will snow here in Vancouver and Ryan and I will make a little cave of our own.

Are you or any kids you know involved in scouting?  Please feel free to share your stories in the comments section below or at the Autism and Scouting Facebook group!

Wishing you a fantastic rest of the day!  Be Prepared!

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