Tips for working with Scouts with special needs or disabilities

Use these proven strategies as a guide to working with Scouts or Scouters with special needs or disabilities.

Mobility impairments

  • People who use adaptive equipment see their wheelchair or crutches as an extension of their body, so never move those out of reach.
  • Before booking a campout or field trip, check to make sure the destination has accessible facilities and aids like ramps and handrails.
  • Offer assistance, but give help only if it’s wanted.

Hearing loss

  • Face the person directly and enunciate clearly. Speak in a normal volume.
  • Remember the person might be trying to read your lips, so never stand with your back to an audience or with the sun behind you.
  • If you don’t understand what the person with hearing loss just said, simply ask him to repeat it.

Vision impairments

  • If the person needs or wants help with guidance, let him hold on to your arm. Don’t grab onto him or try to lead him.
  • Let them use their hands to touch and feel the world around them; this is how they see.
  • If you meet someone who uses a guide dog, never pet or feed the animal.

Speech and language disorders

  • Don’t shout. People with speech disorders often have perfect hearing.
  • Avoid noisy situations. Background noise makes communication hard for everyone.
  • Don’t interrupt by finishing sentences or supplying words. Model slow speech with short phrases and yes-or-no questions when appropriate.

ADD/ADHD

  • Plan short sessions. Intersperse seated activities with more active, hands-on ones.
  • Don’t give long lists of instructions. Give three or four at a time, and then add more when those are complete.
  • Be sensitive to Scouts when talking about taking medication. Never use public proclamations like, “Trevor, go take your pill.”

Learning disabilities

  • Don’t ask a Scout with a learning disability to read aloud unless he wants to and has practiced.
  • Use praise and encouragement to build self-esteem, and ask the Scout’s buddies to support him.
  • Be patient and give the Scout extra time if needed.

Autism

  • Remember that it’s called the autism spectrum for a reason: There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Learn the person’s coping methods and what triggers negative reactions.
  • Be patient and allow extra time for activities. Supply a visual schedule of the day’s events — something all Scouts will appreciate. Avoid using specific times on the schedule, though, because you might be expected to follow them to the minute.
  • Talk with the Scout’s parents before planning noisy activities that could cause difficulty for the Scout. Perhaps these activities could take place outside, where noise dissipates.

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