Scouting with Special Needs

Since its founding in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has had fully participating members with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. The first Chief Scout Executive, James E. West, had a disability. While there are troops composed exclusively of Scouts with disabilities, experience has shown that Scouting works best when such boys are mainstreamed—placed in a regular patrol in a regular troop.

Use Common Sense

The best guide to working with Scouts who have disabilities is to use good common sense. It’s obvious that a Scout in a wheelchair may have problems fulfilling a hiking requirement, but it might not be so obvious when it comes to the Scout with a learning disability. Use the resources around you, and the "Guide to Scouting with Special Needs pamphlet. Begin with the Scout and his parents; seek guidance from them on how best to work with the Scout. Seek help from the Scout’s teacher, doctor, or physical therapist. Each Scout will be different, so no single plan will work for every Scout. If the troop is short on personnel, ask the Scout’s parents to help, or assign one or more skilled older Scouts to be of assistance. It will take patience, but the rewards will be great, for you and for the members of your troop.

Advancement Guidelines

Many Scouts with disabilities may have difficulty completing the requirements to advance in Scouting. However, it is important that these Scouts feel as much like others as possible, therefore completing the requirements as stated in official Scouting literature should be a primary objective. It may take these Scouts a little longer than others, so using the intermediate recognition system with the leather thong and beads can be a real motivator. If a Scout’s disability hinders him in completing a particular requirement or merit badge, then he may wish to apply for alternative requirements for Tenderfoot through First Class ranks, or for an alternative merit badge.

Alternative Requirements for Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class Ranks

A Scout who has a permanent physical or mental disability and is unable to complete all of the requirements for Tenderfoot, Second Class, or First Class rank may submit a request to the council advancement committee to complete alternative requirements. To keep Scouts with disabilities as much in the advancement mainstream as possible, some advancement accommodation may be required. Thus, a Scout in a wheelchair can meet the requirements for hiking by making a trip to a place of interest in his community. Giving more time and permitting the use of special aids are other ways leaders can help Scouts with disabilities in their efforts to advance. The substitute should provide a similar learning experience to the original requirement. Bear in mind that the outcome of the Scouting experience should be one of fun and learning, not completing the requirements for rank advancements, which might place unrealistic expectations on the Scout with a disability