Accessible and Neurodiverse Scouting

Part of our mission in OSG is to create “Scouting for Everybody.” In this quest, we not only scout with people of all races, religions, backgrounds, genders, and orientations, but also with scouts who are neurodiverse and experience a variety of physical and learning challenges.

While some of those differences make no difference to the scout leader or the program, as leaders, we may need extra skills to create an inclusive scouting program for youth who are atypical.

Keep Inclusivity Top of Mind

If you have a scouting program with kids who are neurodivergent or have a disability, you may be wondering what to do. First, it is important that the scout be included as much as possible without being singled out. This means that if one scout needs to work on their knots with a larger rope, then everyone should have a larger rope! The larger rope is easier to hold than a thinner rope, so let them all use it.

Choosing activities where everyone can participate, snacks everyone can eat, and games everyone can play will help you build your group and let everyone play the game of scouting! Yes, this can mean you need to plan ahead to adjust for the scouts in your group, but you can do it! Scout the kids you have, not the kids you thought you’d have!

Leader Guide

With that said, it can be hard to know how and what to adjust for different challenges if you are new to working with atypical youth. This leader guide is here to help. While it does not cover every possible challenge, it has ideas for many specific and general ways to adapt to work with both your entire group and your specific scout with challenges.

The guide has been put together by a team of OSG leaders with a wide variety of experiences with atypical youth. It includes pages devoted to specific challenges like ADHD, autism, motor control issues, and dyslexia. It also has advice on how to adapt badges for scouts, so that they are stretching to meet a challenge, not discouraged they can’t do the impossible.

This new guide ends with a section about how to create an Individualized Scouting Plan, ISP, for your scout. While every scout with a challenge may not need a written plan, creating one can help caregivers, parents, leaders, and scouts to all be on the same page and have a plan in place to meet a scout’s needs. Making a plan together can let you figure out how to adapt your plans for camping or other activities in advance so that you all have the best experiences possible.

You can also download the Rubric for Evaluating Special Needs to use with your group. It outlines one way to determine the amount of assistance a child needs beyond the needs of typical children. It can be helpful for discussing with parents and caregivers what assistance they need to provide for their scouts. Some children need more help than a scout leader can provide on their own. So, it is essential to discuss with families how they can help make scouting successful for their child.

Leader Guide

Practical advice on how to adapt your meetings and badge requirements to be inclusive of all your scout’s needs.

Individualized Scouting Plan

Use this template to document your adaptation plan so you can discuss it with the scout’s parents and other leaders.

Rubric for Evaluating Special Needs

A simple guide to help you determine if a scout needs accommodations and at what level.

Additional Resources

The leader guide talks about using tools that have both words and pictures in certain situations and provides examples. You can download those handouts for use with your group. You can also download the images used in them to make your own handouts.

Need More Ideas?

If you need more help after reading the guide, please reach out to me for further ideas with our Contact Us form or comment on our Outdoor Service Guides Special Needs Facebook group for help from our community.

We want to provide support to our leaders by anticipating the kinds of situations they may encounter with youth scouts. If you think of a specific topic that is not covered in the guide and have expertise you would like to share with the OSG community, please comment below or join the discussion in the Facebook group. If you want to author a section for the guide on a topic that is not currently included, or write a blog post for this site on a topic, let me know. I would love to include more voices from our region and the broader OSG community in these discussions and information sharing.