Blog | Autism-friendly Scouting
Advice for supporting young people on the autism spectrum...
April is Autism Awareness Month and to mark the occasion, we spoke to expert volunteers, parents, carers and young people to help raise awareness and dispel myths surrounding autism.
You don’t have to be an expert to support a young person on the autism spectrum. Although each young person will be different, there are some key principles that can be helpful and also benefit your Scout section as a whole.
1. Use clear and simple communication
Young people with autism have some level of difficulty in understanding and using communication effectively. So, keep it short and simple, and say what you mean; avoid sayings or sarcasm. It can also help to start by saying the young person’s name.
2. Be visual
Practical skills and activities in Scouting are ideal, given that young people with autism understand and learn best visually. Using words, symbols, pictures or photos, to aid understanding or to act as reminders, can be really helpful too.
3. Work in partnership with parents/carers
Building an open and positive relationship with the parent/carer is the key to successful inclusion. Explain that we try to enable all young people to access Scouting and set a time period to review how things are going. Be honest about your level of experience; don’t be afraid to ask questions. Find out about the young person’s strengths and difficulties, and what works well at home and school to support them.
4. Give processing time
Young people on the spectrum are likely to need more time to process and respond to speech. Use the National Autistic Society’s ‘six second rule’: count to six in your head before repeating what you have said.
5. Provide structure and routines
The planned activities, regular meetings and traditions/ceremonies within Scouting can be a great asset for inclusion of young people with autism. Help the young person understand and learn these. Providing information such as timetables can be really helpful. For some young people, you may need to explain or reassure them about what is happening now and next during a section meeting.
6. Prepare for changes or new situations
Change and new situations can cause a lot of anxiety for a young person with autism. Help them be prepared by providing information in advance. A great example is providing a schedule and some photos ahead of a camp. For some, moving between activities may be very stressful, and using a countdown or a sand timer can really help.
7. Manage the environment
Many young people with autism will also have sensory difficulties. For example, they may find particular clothing items (eg necker/scarf) too uncomfortable to wear, or find loud noise distressing, such as during the Grand Howl in Cubs. Be aware, adapt and plan strategies. For example a calm or quiet space for when things get too much.
8. Ensure rules and expectations are made clear
This can improve participation and behaviour for all young people, particularly those with autism, especially if these are displayed visually.
9. Be positive, calm and caring
Our values provide a great foundation for the inclusion of young people on the autism spectrum. Help others in their understanding where needed.
10. Be prepared and plan ahead
If you are prepared, you will be equipped to deal with any problems that may arise and can also prepare the young person. Be aware of strengths and difficulties of the young person, and build this into your planning of a programme and activities. There is lots of flexibility within Scouting to adapt to individual needs.
Remember, there are already some great things about Scouting for a young person with autism, which you can make the most of. There are simple things you can do to promote inclusion and to support young people on the spectrum to enjoy and develop within Scouting.
If you have a question, a story to share or a request for additional guidance/resources, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org