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Disclosure and Special Needs

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I need some advice as this is a tricky issue and I can't really find it addressed anywhere.


What do you do in a situation where you have knowledge of an individual scouts special needs and the information isn't disclosed on any medical forms and the parent does not list any medications? The leaders are not aware or knowledgeable of the needs and either think the child is just a pain in the rear or make no attempt to help the child because they really don't know how?(naturally we are not talking about a physical disability but ones of a more emotional/behviorial variety) For some of these kids, dealing with them in the same way you would any child that is misbehaving backfires and causes an escalation in the situation and the behavior of the scout(s) casues everyone to not enjoy the scouting event.


I don't want to be long winded but with confidentiality etc and not having obtained information in a scout capacity, I'm really noodling on this. You don't want to punish the scouts and exclude them and the parents are usually not ones who will attend functions or step in themselves to help out.


Any thoughts and past experiences would be greatly appreciated.


I dont' want to be long winded

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I wish I could offer some advice, but I'm just as interested as you to hear what everyone else has to say. Our boys went to summer camp last week. We had three of our new scouts with us. One is kind of an oddball. He is very small, skinny, always stares at the ground and has a very dry personality. He seems to be a nice enough kid though. Friday night at summer camp was parent night and his parents made the 5 hour trip to camp to come see him. He wanted to go back to the hotel with them and spend the night and return to camp the next morning to make the ride back home with the troop. Surprisingly, the SM was agreeable to it. The boys mother however told him that he needed to stay with the troop. Around bedtime, he started wandering around camp sobbing. Our SPL went to check on him and he wouldn't be consoled. In fact, he went fairly primal on us. He screamed a scream I never want to hear again as long as I live. He was picking up sticks and beating trees with them and slamming his fists into benches. Our SM had some OA business to attend to and was not in camp. I probably didn't handle it as well as I should have. I hustled over and sternly told him to stop and that his behavior was unacceptable. He made a number of hateful remarks to me. One of our committee members who had spent the week (I was only able to come Friday night to drive boys back on Saturday) is a former police officer and came out of his tent to assist. He spent more than an hour gently talking to the boy until he got him settled down and willing to go to bed. When the SM got back, he informed me that the boy has ODD - Oppositional Defiance Disorder and it comes out when he is tired and/or stressed. Gee, that would have been good information to share with me and my fellow ASM early in the game! In this case, I think the boys parents had informed the SM and even told him the boy is recieving psycologigal counseling for anger management. The next morning, the boy was bright eyed and bushy tailed. In my opinion, this boy needs a parent along on outings since we never know if or when something will set him off.

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Welcome to the forum.


Is it safe to assume that there has been issues that have led to the "knowledge of the individual scout's special needs"?


The SM and CC should discuss those issues with the parent(s) to eventualy ascertain the medical situation, if any, and then share that information with the other adult leaders as necessary. Granted, most adult leaders are not trained to handle situations arising from mental illness but having knowledge of what it is, what medications are being taken, what sets it off and how the parent suggests the leaders handle situations when they occur are all important pieces of information needed to help ensure the scout's safety and assist in paving the way for the boy's enjoyment of and success in the scouting program.


Approaching the parent with a sincere desire to make scouting work for this boy is important and the parent needs to understand that this information is required to help keep him safe. Of course, the conversation should begin with a discussion of the behavioral issues, given the chance that this boy is not under any doctor care or medication. Let those issues lead the way to a possible discussion of the underlying problems.


Years ago, we had a new scout that was truly a handful. The adult leaders had suspected that there were issues beyond the norm. When we met with the parent to discuss his behavior on the last campout, the parent had admitted that she had seen a noticeable change in his behavior over the past year but had not taken the step to seek medical/counseling care as yet (she had actually hoped that being in boy scouts would help him get through what she thought was just an adolescent phase). As it turned out, the boy was suffering from severe depression. My suspicion is that the parent wasn't willing to face it until others began to give her feedback that her son was indeed going through more than just a phase.


Good luck.

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Many parents send their kids to scouts hoping it will do what they often are not willing to do. We have them 1 to 2 hours per week and one weekend per month and they have them pretty much 24/7. Scouting reinforces what you hope the boy is getting at home, it can't replace what they are not getting. We have two boys in our troop that can be real handfulls. One is the poster child for ADHD. He is on no medication because his mom refuses to believe there is anything wrong. Two minutes around this boy and even the untrained observer will be convinced. The other boy has been diagnosed as ADHD, but in my estimation is not. His actions just do not fit the "norm" for ADHD. He simply recieves no discipline at home and is spoiled rotten. His idol is Bart Simpson and he does his best to live up to and out do his idol. In both cases, the parents don't want to face reality and they both hope scouting will do for the boys what they won't.

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My first step would be a frank discussion with the parents using carefully selected leaders (ones who show the sort of people skills this would need). Learn about the boy and his needs, especially his meds.


What you do next would depend on what you learn- should the information be shared, and of so, with whom? The SM and CC almost certainly, but beyond that may take some careful thought. His patrol members, for example, might really benefit from knowing more OR they might be better off treating him more like one of the guys.


Requesting/requiring the parents or other 'appointed guardian' to attend events might not be a bad idea, but many of the parents are sort of hoping for a break themselves, and I'd be inclined to accomodate them if at all reasonable.


If the parent's do not oblige, or are ignoring a real problem, I'd let the unit's normal discipline process occur. If the Scout is out of the leadership's ability to control, he should be taken home, suspended, etc. as per normal unit practices.



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This topic raises a sore spot with me.


We had one Scout who had some very serious needs. However, his parents studiously avoided letting any of us know.


After determining that the Scout's actions were so far out of the rather wide range of "normal," we had to confront the father, who had become an ASM, before he would let us in on the Scout's medical diagnosis. (Asperger's Syndrome.)


We sure could have been much, much more effective in helping this Scout and in helping the rest of our Scouts, if the parents would have let us know the score from the beginning. Not to mention, having provided what turned out to be much greater than normal supervision on a snow camping trip. (It was getting dark and he hadn't built his shelter or kept track of his gear.)


I understand that they may have been a bit reluctant to "label" their son, but his behavior labeled him right away. The only problem is that was the wrong label.


We're just volunteers, after all.


- Oren

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If you are aware a Scout has an emotional disorder, then the rest of the adult leadership need to know this. If the adults are unaware of a condition a Scout has there is no way they will be able to deal with it.


Ed Mori

Troop 1

1 Peter 4:10

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Yes we are all volunteers and need to know how to help but there are various levels of involvement from the volunteers as well. Some are much more committed than others and more willing to help and do whatever it takes. This brings to mind a question. What does everyone else use as a leader to scout ratio when dealing with these kids with Special Needs (formally diagnosed and disclosed or not)? It is clear to me that the 2 deep leadership is not enough for a den of 7 boys and don't assume the parents are willing to help. They aren't.

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2 Deep Leadership is only BSA policy on outings, not for Den meetings. It's a good idea, but not policy.


How many adults you would need would vary widely depending on the boys involved.


Having a Denner & a Den Chief would help a lot without having to find more adults.


Look at all of your families work & hobby experience. Use them to run specific meetings that are based on their area of knowledge. That would help free up Leaders to work with the boys. This works especially well with Webelos.


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I have found that having one adult:one special needs child is the best ratio, particularly at the cub scout age. Preferably, the adult should be the parent. If the parent 'isn't into parenting' (I am still floored by that statement) and not available then find the most patient and understanding adult you can to be there for that scout when things start going sideways for them. You can then focus on your den, knowing that the boy is being looked after by someone that you can trust has his best interests at heart.(This message has been edited by SemperParatus)

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There's a couple of ways to approach this. One method we use is the week before summer camp, the ASM that serves as "medical officer" (he's a former EMT) talks to each boy. He asks them if they take any medicine on a regular basis. He also has their medical forms for camp as a reference. If he finds out they do, he gives them a big ziplock bag and tells them that they need to bring them in their original containers to camp on Sunday. The parents are also told that if we find out the child needs meds and doesn't have them, they have two choices - bring them to camp or take him home.


As for notification to other leaders, I try to handle it carefully and confidentially. The adults that are at camp for the week usually huddle the first day of camp. If there is anything they need to be aware of, we share it with them at that time.

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(Quick background note- I work with adults with special needs for my job, and see the dynamics of these families constantly, this experience forms the foundation for this note.)


Families of children with special needs are usually under an incredible amount of stress and hardship. Their friends usually thin out, cash runs tight, schools put demands on the families, other family members are either ignored or are turned into slave caretakers for the person with the needs, and more. The divorce rate is incredible in this community, and there is not a lot of help available to most of them.


Obviously, this is also a sliding scale, not all families are showing extreme signs of all these points but almost certainly, the family is suffering in some way.


We cannot fix the child or the family, and sadly, in many cases we are not equipped to help the child or the family beyond a pretty basic level. It complicates matters that the parents usually have a 'different' view of the child than other people do- seeing them as more able, less troublesome, etc. than they may seem to the rest of us.


Whenever practical, I would take a child with special needs into my unit, and try to see if we can find someone to be a 'buddy' for the Scout- someone of whatever age is appropriate for the task (peer, older Scout, adult, whatever). The buddy needs to know at least something about the Scout and his needs, and tips or tricks for helping.


Whenever practical, I'd also prefer this buddy to not be an immediate family member, but this is not always an option.




Besides any form of a buddy for the Scout in question, your den should also have a Den Leader (you, I presume), an Assistant Den Leader, A Den Aide (an often overlooked option that is INCREDIBLY helpful! A great role for an older child or a spouse in the house where the meetings are held), A Den Chief, A Denner, and even an Assistant Denner. Each of these can take over some part of the duty of running the den (basically leaving you with the fun stuff!) In a den of 7 boys, that is 6 people in some sort of leadership/support position- not too bad a ratio even before adding the 'buddy' (call the buddy a Den Aide if you want!)


I've been a Den Chief, a Cubmaster, a Committee Chair, and a Cub Leader Trainer. I think the DL has one of the hardest jobs in Scouting and needs all the help they can get. Scoutmasters get all the glory, but the average DL works a lot harder! ;-) I have always tried to make sure my DLs had all of these positions active in their groups and it really makes a difference- Socuts with special needs or not.

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Getting back to the first post.


Have a meeting with the parents? Tell them what you have observed. They may confirm your suspicions or completely deny them.


Confirm - set into motion a plan of action agreeable to the parents, the leaders, and the boy. Get information such as diagnosis, medical documentation, iep, medications and how they are taken, conditions that may cause reaction and ways to deal with or avoid them, behavior expectations, teachers/school input, aides.


Establish expectations from the parents, leaders, and the boy. Then, how are WE (the collective; parents, (all) leaders, the boy, and his peers) going to handle this?


Deal with barriers up front. They include but are not limited to:

1. Prejudice

2. Ignorance

3. Fear

4. Insensitivity

5. Bigotry

6. Stereotyping

7. Misconception

8. Discrimination

9. Dislike

10. Invisibility

11. Insecurity

12. Discomfort

13. Condescension

14. Intolerance


Work together.


Approach them in confidence. Be empathetic toward their situation. Utilize the buddy system and designate an adult to be there to help if necessary. Maintain as much privacy as possible, while keeping those involved "completely" in the loop. IT WILL BE A TREMENDOUS CHALLENGE. Every boy deserves the best opportunity we can give them.



If they deny the problem and insist "it is none of your business", then as was stated in another post, let them know of unit behavior policies and their consequences.


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Wow, I am shocked that parents of a special kid would want to hide anything. My son, 13.5, does have developmental delays, speech difficulties, and his problems are visual with his mild CP. I would never leave him with anyone that didn't know him inside-out. Which is why he is always with dh or myself...period. The exceptions are his physical, occupational, and speech therapies, however, the therapist are experienced in this area. We aren't saddling our 16 yr old with this responsibility, either. He spends time with his brother, but not because he's our sitter.


I have been to five summer camps as an adult leader since it was difficult to locate a second adult. My special guy went with me and his dr mentioned his difficulties on the medical form. I mention this because I understand the scout camp environment. I would have been very upset that I was uninformed and didn't have all info on each scout. That's quite a responsibility for a week and nothing should be hidden.


If I were in your shoes, only knowing what is written here, I would talk to the SM and inform him of the info. You have done your part to see that everyone has a sucessful week. The ball is in the court of the SM and he should discuss this with the parents.


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Marilyn M - I am not at all shocked that there are parents out there who are not sharing their sons' disabilities with leaders (taking your statement at face value). I just got back from serving as ASM for an NYLT troop - as the scouts got more stressed, three stood out as exhibiting abnormal symptoms. One turned out to be bipolar, another was ADD and the other had some nervous disorder that I never did figure out. None of this info was on the medical form - the bipolar I figured out by googling the med he was on (I was told ADHD for him which didn't make sense - his med was dispensed at night), the ADD I figured out because his parents had carefully written over the name of the med he was on during the school year (took him off just before NYLT) and I managed to read through it.


Sure did make it a lot harder to help these boys earn their shield...


Vicki (edited for clarification)(This message has been edited by Vicki)

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