Why we’re proud to support all young people this Autism Awareness Week

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UK Chief Commissioner Tim Kidd explains why this is a timely moment to reflect on the value and importance of helping all young people experience our programme and develop skills for life. He also outlines how we’re working with the National Autistic Society to provide information, training and support to our volunteers. 

What we offer – teamwork, skills, confidence, resilience and a powerful sense of belonging – is of extraordinary value to any young person. But it can be an absolute lifeline for autistic young people.

Every young person deserves the chance to experience our programme and benefit from learning in a safe and friendly environment. As Scouts, we know that childhood is a precious thing. The sense of hope and optimism we offer, and the power of positive role models, can have a transformative effect on a child’s future. That’s why, as a movement, we remain committed to making Scouts open to all.

When autistic young people and their parents come to us, we have a clear duty to welcome them and make any necessary adjustments. But I’d go further than that. I’d say that it’s a privilege for us to help these young people make connections and reach their potential. I’ve seen for myself the extraordinary difference we can make and the value of non-formal learning.

Training and support for you

One thing is abundantly clear to me. To offer the best possible experience to young people, we need to provide some specialist knowledge and training to our volunteers. No one expects our volunteers to be experts and that’s why as a national team, we’re ensuring that up to date information and support is available. 

To strengthen our support, we’re pleased to announce that in partnership with the National Autistic Society we’re making eLearning available to our members, to enhance their knowledge of autism and the strengths and challenges of autistic people. The three modules cover: 

  • Understanding Autism
  • Autism, Sport and Physical Activity
  • Autism, Stress and Anxiety.

Building our knowledge 

This training is part of our volunteers’ ongoing learning and isn’t mandatory. However, I’d urge all volunteers to complete this to ensure their knowledge is up to date. I’ve completed it myself and found it clear, useful and straightforward. 

It may be that you’re already supporting autistic young people, and if so, may already have acquired skills and knowledge from conversations with the young people’s parents and other sources. This training will reinforce and complement your existing knowledge.  

At the end of each module, a certificate will be generated which can be sent to a Training Adviser for them to record on Compass. Further training, resources and support will follow later in the year to help our volunteers when working with young people on the autism spectrum.

Webinars on Scouts and autism 

I can also let you know that we’ll be running training webinars on Scouts and autism, offering further practical advice and support for leadership teams. 

We’ll run the same session once a month for the next six months. It’ll include information from the National Autistic Society, as the experts in this area, accompanied by Scout specific advice and support.

The webinars will run on 25 April, 20 May, 17 June, 8 July, 19 August and 23 September 7.30-9pm. Instructions on how to join one of these can be found here. They’ll also be recorded and shared in our monthly email. From personal experience, I’ve found webinars to be a great way to learn and will be grateful if you are able to find the time to sign up for one of these. 

More support on the way 

Looking further ahead, in May we’ll launch a guide for leaders on how to induct a young person with autism into the Scouts, as well as a new guide for parents and young people that includes a visual story about a Scout meeting and activities. Also in May, we’ll issue a new questionnaire for leaders to give to parents of autistic people, to find out how we can best support them and to identify possible adjustments that may need to be made. In September 2019, we’ll offer Additional Needs training modules.

Learning from experience 

We don’t always get it right. Last year we launched a learning inquiry, working with the National Autistic Society, to review our policies and procedures to see how we can better support autistic Scouts. This followed a case where an autistic young person had a difficult experience in the Scouts. You can read the recommendations from the learning enquiry here.

Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: ‘We are pleased that the Scouts have taken such positive action to investigate and learn from the negative experiences of an autistic child at one of their Groups.

‘Our charity has now worked with the Scouts to identify practical action to improve their policies and practice so that autistic children feel welcome at all Scouts activities, and are able to learn, play and make friends with people who understand them.

‘We want autistic children and adults to be able to benefit from opportunities like Scouting as much as anyone else. With 700,000 children and adults on the autism spectrum in the UK and at high risk of social isolation, it’s important that organisations do all they can to be autism-friendly.’

Supporting young people and our volunteers 

As a Scouts volunteer, I know there’s always much to do. But quite rightly, the needs of young people must always be our first priority. The eLearning from the National Autistic Society, the webinar and forthcoming Scout specific resources will help us do that.   

I’m proud that in our strategic plan, Skills for Life, there’s such a focus on inclusivity in all its forms. But I’m equally pleased that there’s such a strong commitment to supporting our volunteers too. That’s why we’re working to make volunteering easier and more enjoyable, with training that’s easier to access and complete. 

Let’s never forget the life-changing impact of the work we do and the power of skills to transform lives. Thank you to all our volunteers, parents and partner organisations for making this possible.  

Summary of information, training and support 

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