Blog | Scouting with autism
We spoke to Explorer Scout, James, who has autism, about his achievements and experiences in Scouting...
Do you ever have to explain what autism is? What do you say?
If I had to tell someone what it is, I would probably tell them it causes my brain to function differently from everyone else and makes me behave and think differently from others. It affects my learning, making it difficult for me to do so in certain areas such as English, but it is not always bad. It enhances my ability in certain areas such as maths and physics, which are my best subjects.
When you first joined Scouts did you find it easy to fit in and take part in the activities?
In Beavers I didn’t have much of a problem. It was when I got to Scouts that I started to have a problem. Some of the games were quite rough and I didn’t really join in with those games, but nobody seemed to have a problem with that. Instead, I joined in with the leaders and helped to referee.
You were awarded your DofE Bronze and Chief Scout Platinum Award recently?
I took part in a two day expedition with three Dragon Explorers and two other people I didn’t know at the time. That was the hardest part of the DofE. Because of my autism and being unable to organise myself very well, I had a variation which allowed an adult to stay on site nearby over night for support when I needed it, however, some of the other Explorers were good at helping me.
For the Chief Scout Platinum Award International section, I went to Kandersteg in Switzerland and visited the Jungfraujoch (that's me fourth from the left in the picture above!), which is the very top of Europe.
Is there anything you find difficult to do because of the condition?
I struggle in conversations, due to having to think about what I say before I say it. I also mix up my words and say something that doesn’t make sense whatsoever and I have to correct myself constantly. Things like writing are difficult, because it gives me a lack of communication between my brain and my hand.
I also struggle to listen to people and follow instructions as I tend to forget instructions as soon as I hear something else. I can’t ignore background noise and find loud noises difficult to cope with. Sometimes I stop in the middle of what I am doing and look like I am thinking before I carry on, but I don’t know I’m doing it. It gets me confused. I also can’t get anything done if I’m on my own, but as long as there is someone in the room watching me, even if they aren’t helping, I can still organise myself.
What inspires you to continue to be a part of Scouting?
I go to school an hour away by car, so I don’t see any school friends outside of school and it is therefore great to be in Scouting and have lots of friends close by. Another inspiration is Bear Grylls; I am a big fan of his TV shows and I have met him twice. The third thing is my sister. Amy is a Queen Scout and overcame problems with her knees to achieve her award. She really struggled with the expedition she did in Yorkshire, but she still Scouts on and I’m really proud of her!
I’ve made friends who I stay in touch with outside of Scouting. I don’t normally get out of the house much, doing things such as dog walking and indoor skydiving for my DofE can be very helpful with my co-ordination. It also gives me more of a social life and things to talk about.
What do you think should be done to help raise awareness about autism in Scouting?
The leaders have run sessions on some disabilities, but it would be great if all sections could learn about autism so they can be more tolerant when they meet someone who lives with it. I think that because people with autism look normal, lots of adults don’t understand what autism is or how to help someone who has it. Perhaps there could be a Scouting ambassador who is on the autistic spectrum. One day, when I’m older, I might like to be a Scouting ambassador.