Tips for working with Scouts with special needs or disabilities

Use these recommended guidelines that may help as a guide to working with Scouts or Scouters with special needs or disabilities.

Always discuss a particular individual’s needs with the Scout and their family so you can make an individual assessment on a case by case basis.

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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  1. I’m Cubmaster for a Pack with a boy on the Autism spectrum. Is there a requirement for the parents to disclose this information? It would have been helpful at a recent event if the parent would have spoken to me and explained this boy’s coping skills…instead of me having to interpret what the issues and triggers were. It was only after the event that I found out he is on the Autism spectrum.

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