Q&A | Overcoming the challenges of autism
We're in the midst of World Autism Awareness Week, which aims to raise awareness of what life is like for people on the autistic spectrum. Queen's Scout Award (QSA) holder Bethanie Pearce explains some of the challenges being autistic poses to her, and why she isn't letting it hold her back.
Congratulations on completing your QSA! What motivated you to do it?
Some of the young people I work with in my District wanted to do more awards, and I discovered that, to be able to run it for other young people, I’d have to complete it myself. I completed it in just under 18 months.
That's impressive. How did you find the process?
This was the first time I had ever really been called upon to organise something, and at times it was a nightmare. I’m not the most organised person in the world but I managed it.
The expedition was also very challenging. We did a coastal project in Wales, following a river to the coast, half hiking and half sailing, so before we set off I had to learn to sail. I’m not a particularly outdoorsy person and this was for a week, which is the longest I’ve ever camped for.
I have dyspraxia, and I’m one of the most uncoordinated people ever, so hiking on uneven ground was also very challenging. My team were always trying to catch me before I hit the floor! I was very bruised when I came back but it was worth it.
How did being on the autistic spectrum affect you while you were on the expedition?
Having to socialise and communicate with my team - people I didn't know well - was difficult. My autism can give me very high anxiety about anything new or different, or where there are expectations of me, and the expedition held loads of expectations about finishing that created a lot of anxiety. I had to handle it and explain to my team what was going on, and sometimes I had to work at a slower pace. The team were very understanding and supportive - if I wandered off for a while then they knew I just needed space to get ready to do the next bit.
In my normal Scouting role, helping at Cubs, my autism has never had an impact because it's only for such a short time each week. But when you’re away for longer, in close quarters and sharing tents, it’s totally different. It was a very new experience.
How do you feel about having completed the Queen's Scout Award now?
I look back at the expedition and residential experiences and wonder how the heck I got through it all! I now have a new sense of freedom. If I can do that, if I can put myself in some – what seemed to be - very intimidating situations, then what else can I do?
I want to run the QSA for other young people and help them to have an experience that they wouldn’t get in school or from their family. I really want to give that sense of freedom and independence to other people, who, like me, may not otherwise have it.
I can empathise and know what it’s like to be that kid who finds it difficult when everyone else finds it easy. I went through school thinking I was stupid. If I’d had something like Cubs to go to, then I would have been able to achieve something and get that confidence and self-esteem from somewhere else.
During the process of planning and doing my QSA, I hadn’t realised how much I had changed, grown and developed as a person. I’m far more confident in myself and my abilities, and positive about situations that would have scared me so much before. Scouting has given me confidence and taught me skills I never thought I’d have.
Advice and support is available to help leaders make their sections more inclusive for young people on the autistic spectrum.