Jump to content

Special needs scouts - special advancement procedures

Recommended Posts

Our troop has two fellows with Downs' Syndrome who are just starting on their Scouting paths. We've had a bit of uncertainty as to which requirements to "bend" and how far, so we set up a meeting with the district advancement coordinator, our troop advancement chair, the parents for the fellows, and myself (SM). I learned a lot and I'd like to share some of that here. (I strongly encourage other SM's to consult with your district advancement person regarding any of the information I offer; other councils may have slightly different takes on BSA policies.)


1. Scouts with some medical conditions (including Downs) have until their 22nd birthday to complete the requirements for Eagle.


2. Until the Life rank is awarded, all advancement procedures are at the unit level. This means that no special coordination with council is required for any alternative requirements until a scout becomes an Eagle candidate. Importantly, once a unit has certified a scout as having earned a rank (through Life), council may not second guess the procedures for any rank.


3. Parents of special need scouts are encouraged to review the requirements for each next rank and evaluate whether their son may have difficulties with any requirement. Parents should coordinate with the SM in advance regarding these requirements. At the same time, all scouts are encouraged to try to achieve the standard requirements. The SM, in consultation with the parents (and the physician if warranted) can unilaterally determine an alternative requirement for rank advancement. For example, a scout who can not swim (for medical reasons) may be given a comparable hiking requirement to satisfy the 1st Class swimming reqirement.


4. The SM conference is the test for skills and knowledge and should be geared for the abilities of the Scout. In some cases, the parent or guardian may be allowed to participate in the SM conference to assist a Scout who has a communication disability. Once the SM has signed off on all rank requirements, the Board of review should not retest but rather should explore the quality of scouts experience in the unit. Again, a parent may be allowed to sit in on the BoR, which should never be longer than 15 minutes. Under extreme circumstances, BoRs may adjourn (to be reconvened at a specified later date) but should not "fail" any candidate.


5. Similarly for merit badges, scouts should be encouraged to try all of the standard requirements, but counselors have unilateral authority to apply alternative requirements as may be appropriate on a case-by case basis. Counselors do not need to be BSA registered (this may be a council policy?) but need to be recognized as experts in the subject. Of course, all scouts need to obtain the SM's signature before working on any MB. Once the blue card (or equivalent) is signed by the counselor and the SM, the MB is approved; the troop advancement committee is not involved.


6. For Eagle required MBs, if an entire MB is to be substituted, then council needs to be consulted to ensure that the substitute MB is adequate (eg., Leatherwork should not be substituted for Swimming) and is satisfactorily documented. A statement should be prepared by the SM explaining the alternative MB. Also, if alternative procedures are adopted, a medical statement should be filed with the eagle application.


I hope that I have not made any errors in reviewing my notes from the meeting, and I certainly welcome comments from others who may be more experienced in these procedures than myself. I am looking forward to working with these two young fellows in our troop!



Link to post
Share on other sites

Trev -


Thanks for bringing up this important subject. I do not have specific, personal experience on the topic, but I have researched it a time or two on the possibility of utilizing the alternate requirements on some borderline cases.


My understanding differs from yours on point #2. You said "Until the Life rank is awarded, all advancement procedures are at the unit level. This means that no special coordination with council is required for any alternative requirements until a scout becomes an Eagle candidate. Importantly, once a unit has certified a scout as having earned a rank (through Life), council may not second guess the procedures for any rank."


Here's what the requirement book says:


1) The physical or mental disability must be of a permanent rather than a temporary nature.

2) A clear and concise medical statement concerning the Scout's disabilities must be submitted by a physician licensed to practice medicine. In the alternative, an evaluation statement certified by an educational administrator may be submitted. The medical statement must state the doctor's opinion that the Scout cannot complete the requirement(s) because of a permanent disability.

3) The Scout, his parents, or leaders must submit to the council advancement committee, a written request that the Scout be allowed to complete alternative requirements for Tenderfoot, Second Class, or First Class rank. The request must explain the suggested alternate requirements in sufficient detail so as to allow the advancement committee to make a decision. The request must also include the medical statement required in paragraph two above. The written request for alternate requirements must be submitted to and approved by the local council prior to completing alternate requirements.

4) The Scout must complete as many of the regular requirements as his ability permits before applying for alternate requirements.

The alternate requirements must be of such a nature that they are as demanding of effort as the regular requirements.

5) When alternate requirements involve physical activity, they must be approved by the physician.

6) The unit leader and any board of review must explain that to attain Tenderfoot, Second Class, or First Class rank a candidate is expected to do his best in developing himself to the limit of his resources.

7)The written request must be approved by the council advancement committee, utilizing the expertise of professional persons involved in Scouting for disabled youth. The decision of the council advancement committee should be recorded and delivered to the Scout and his leader. (Source: 33215F - page 13)


The two points I highlighted contradict your 2nd point.


Also, for using alternative Merit Badges for Eagle, the "Application for Alternate Eagle Scout Merit Badges" must be completed prior to qualifying. Furthermore, the advancement guidelines state that "The application must be approved by the council committee responsible for advancement, utilizing the expertise of professional persons involved in Scouting for the disabled."


I'm afraid those who advised you are not following the policies as laid out by National.

Link to post
Share on other sites


Thank you for your points. I may have misunderstood and I will deinitely check on that point #2 (It may be that our meeting was itself being considered the prior coordination with council, as far as these two particular scouts is concerned.) I am planning on obtaining the policy pamphlet so I can read the official guidelines. I do know that our district advancement person is in fact a "professional person involved in Scouting for disabled youth". I plan to stay in close coordination with her.

Link to post
Share on other sites



I have to agree with EagleinKY. The alternative procedures are pretty straightforward in BSA Advancement. I recommend a re-visit, with a copy of Requirements both of you are working through.


Keep on with asking the tough questions. You're serving your youth, well and truly :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

I had a similar situation with an autistic scout and while I agree with the other posters, I found that our Council was very lenient on the procedures. Our Council just kind of wanted a heads-up, but pretty much left it to us in determining how to modify requirements.


You may be surprised, weve had experience with several mentally handicap Scouts and they usually end up completing any requirement they try without modifying the requirement. The only requirement we had to change was the swimming requirement for an autistic scout who was deathly terrified of water, even in a glass. My neighbors Downs son is about to earn his Eagle at age 17 and I dont think they changed any requirements for him either.


God bless you and your Troop.




Link to post
Share on other sites


I think your DAC is WAY off base.

1. There is no time limit on eagle if he has documented and approved Disabilities. We had an individual in our SN troop make Eagle at 35.


2 & 3 on the Council Advancement committee can modify requirements with documented disabilities.


5. MB counselors can not modify the requirements at all. MB councelors do need to be registered.


6. Only the CAC can approve alternate MB's for Eagle. But the boy must still complete the alternative MB in its origonal requirements. They cannot modify the requirements.


Your DAC needs to get the Advancement P&P and read it. He has no clue what he is talking about.


It is rewarding working with SN scouts. Some of those in our SN troop are really an inspiration to watch.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, I'm glad I consulted with you guys! This is new territory for me and I want to make sure these two fellows get the most from Scouting as we can offer. I will follow up with our District chair (and with the Council chair too, if necessary).

Link to post
Share on other sites

I work daily with a policy and procedures manual that has state and federal guidelines/rules for working with people with disabilities. I have also worked in school systems where we had state and federal guidelines/rules for the same. There are far more than 7 rules and/or pages to try the limits of one's understanding. Problems appear frequently and they stem from personal perspective, background knowledge and experience. Generally, it is not in the way the item is written but in the way the person perceives it. A federal monitor that has far more insight on the interpretive background will also put their own spin on a rule, meaning that the next monitor may reverse the previous dictate (*so get out your eraser). When this happens, most will exclaim how stupid the previous person was but the image that always forms in my mind is the one about the three blind men defining an elephant by touching a different part of its anatomy. In their own way each is correct but together they may even be more correct than they were alone or they may all still be stumped. The Cub Scouts have the right idea. FB

Link to post
Share on other sites

Echoing what nldscout said. We have a SN troop in our council (MR and Down's) and the guys are still working on advancement and MB well into their 30's and 40's. I look forward to working with them at summer camp every year. I have great admiration for the "adult" leaders who work with them every week. These "scouts" are grown men in every physical respect and I imagine they can be a handful.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Eagledad wrote: "The only requirement we had to change was the swimming requirement for an autistic scout who was deathly terrified of water, even in a glass."


Not to sidetrack this thread too much, but Eagledad, can I ask what the accomodation you made for this scout was?


My son is a high functioning autistic, and he is in a similar situation; in his case, not that he is afraid of water, but because of coordination issues, he will probably never learn to swim. Our troop has been tossing around ideas for the second and first class swimming requirements, and I'm interested in what others have done.



Link to post
Share on other sites

Dan -


Not speaking for Eagledad, but you would have a couple of options. The first is to have him earn hiking or cycling instead. These are options for all scouts who can't swim or don't want to earn swimming. In my opinion, they are harder than swimming.


You could also request to substitute an Eagle required MB. For example, maybe Sports could be substituted for swimming. It ties into being athletic and fit, but it gives the scout much more latitude in what they do to pass the MB.


What you cannot do is change the requirements of the MB. For example, you can't shorten the swimmer's test or eliminate floating on your back. You have to substitute the entire badge, not a requirement.

Link to post
Share on other sites

EagleInKY, thanks for the information, but you addressed a different issue than I am asking about.


I'm asking about the swimming requirements for RANK advancement to second and first class, not the swimming merit badge.



Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey Dan, sorry for the misfire on the response. Good question.


For the 2nd class requirements, 7a (safe swim defense) and 7c (rescue methods) can be done by a non-swimmer. 7b requires a very basic level of swimming, so even a terrible swimmer may be able to handle it. If not, I'd try first substituting it with a swimming-oriented requirement. Maybe he can swim the distance using a kickboard or other floatation device. If getting in the water is out of the question, you could perhaps replace it with him explaining/demonstrating (on dry land) some different strokes and their uses.


For the 1st class requirements, 9a (safe trip afloat) is no problem. 9b (swimmer's test) could be handled like 7b for 2nd Class. Or, you could replace it with a physical challenge, like running a mile. For 9c (line rescue), you could again see if they could do it using a floatation device. Or, perhaps you could use a rowboat. If doing it in the water isn't an option, you could get creative about rescue techniques, such as having him demonstrate how to rescue someone from a burning building.


Those are some ideas off the top of my head. I'm sure others can give you some more.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Check out the BSA Publication "Advancement Commitee, Policies and Procedures" publication number 33088D, I beleive this is the most recent but I could be wrong.


It has a section titled "Advancement for Youth Members with Special Needs" and should be found at your Scout store for $3.95


There is also the BSA Publication "A Guide to Working with Scouts with Disabilities" also at the Scout store for $1.95


Either or both would be good resources for a unit with Special Needs/Handicapped youth


(This message has been edited by OldGreyEagle)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...