Finding Ourselves on the Autism Spectrum

Scouting for Social Skills

This post started as a very long reply to a post at Pancakes Gone Awry. (If I spent less time commenting, I’d probably write more on my blog 🙂

Our experience with social skills training has been pretty hit or miss. My oldest son, who I’m referring to as Simon here,  is an Aspie and has gotten some benefit from actual social skills groups at times, but most of the progress he’s made has come from real-life training. The groups have mainly given us some information and a place to start, along with a captive audience to participate while the kids work through things:)  Some groups have been more useful than others.  We got an idea of the kinds of things we could work on with Simon and tried to figure out how to fit that into real life situations. We stopped going to the last one a few years ago, because we felt he had kind of maxxed out the benefit he was going to get in an artificial setting and that his time could better be spent elsewhere.

 My husband and I kind of zeroed in on Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts  as being groups that would be more accepting of our son and his social difficulties  because of being faith-based and aimed at building character.  As my husband put it, “they kind of have to take him”, in order to be true to their values.  And we felt they would provide more variety of activities and less competition than other options that were available. Also, in our experience, structure is good.

My boys are all scouts now:  One Wolf Cub, one Star Scout, and one Life Scout.  Simon, in particular, has had to be pushed quite a bit at times to keep with the group for this long because of all the ways in which it has challenged him. We’ve gone through public and private meltdowns, anxiety attacks, and the discomfort of watching your kid struggling in front of others with things that come easily to most . It was harder when he was little, too, with lots of little guys running around and making noise much of the time.  Simon’s also had issues with all the time and effort required, and sometimes with the physical accomodations of all the camping.  And my wonderful, supportive husband has attended every meeting, campout, etc., and has spent much of his time being a group leader, because our boy just wasn’t going to be successful doing all this on his own.

Simon’s come a long way and doesn’t require that level of pushing these days.  Scouting has done wonders for him in mind and body.  He’s accomplished things and met challenges that he never would have attempted on his own.  And he’s had ongoing opportunities to learn how to interact with other boys and men in a safe, supportive, and structured environment in which how people treat one another is taken very seriously.  He’s handled boards of review for rank advancements, speaking one-on-one with with merit badge counselors, making speeches, and countless supervised activities with other boys who are working on similar goals.  In addition, the physical challenges have been great for his sensory system.

We have been blessed to know several other families with boys who joined the same year as Simon and also stuck with it, and they have  been very supportive and are great friends.   The boys are all taller than I am now and have become fine young men. They have all learned skills and values that will help them throughout their lives, including some very important social skills. Simon is currently one rank away from becoming an Eagle Scout, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Simon still has challenges with this activity, as he does periodically with most aspects of life.  And I certainly don’t mean to suggest that every Aspie kid out there ought to join scouts.  I don’t believe there’s any group or activity that’s going to be the right fit for everybody.  And I’ve been unhappy and overwhelmed with it at times, because it’s been real work, and it’s been hard.   It’s just nice to share an experience that we’ve found to be of ongoing value in our lives. 

We  have been very blessed in terms of the group of people with whom we ended up through these years.  Some have come and gone, but the overall atmosphere and values have remained consistent.  Of course, our family has been part of shaping that group, too, which is probably why it has worked so well for us.

BTW, did you know that Steven Spielberg didn’t have any interest in film or photography until he started working on the photography merit badge?  He’s an Eagle Scout.  This link lists quite a few more famous eagle and non-eagle scouts and some stats about how many people achieve the eagle rank (on the off chance that anyone is interested):

My husband has a master plan for helping our extremely busy oldest son to achieve his eagle rank without having to push him too hard – he’s going to push the younger brother, instead.  No way our ultracompetitive Aspie son is going to stand still for his younger brother passing him by.   I really can’t argue with the logic 🙂

Comments on: "Scouting for Social Skills" (13)

  1. Congratulations, Simon, for a fine achievement. Congratulations mum and dad for a fine mix of tenacity and smart psychology!

  2. Diane,
    I love scouts and I agree that it helps tremendously with social skills and friendship building. I was a girl scout and so was my daughter although she gave it up a couple of years ago because it really was time consuming, and she wanted to be able to focus on other things. I was even a co-cookie manager one year. Thankfully the other co-manager was very organized which made it fairly easy.

    I am amazed that your family manages with three in scouting. Talk about juggling schedules! My son did not get to do scouting because the meetings conflicted with other scheduled activities, but he is already my social one.

  3. Coleman’s a Webelo II hell bent on being Eagle! The joined cub scouts at the very beginning. Tiger rank. Since then, Dickson’s gone from being den leader to Cubmaster!

    They love it, and it’s been a great social training group for my sweet Aspie.


  4. Great post, Diane!

  5. A family was having another family over for dinner when a little boy came running inside. “Mom! Dad! Come here! You gotta see this!”

    So they went outside and watched the little boy throw the football. He thew it long and hard and straight.

    The parents of the kids cheered. The little boy did it again and again. Each time, his parents were ecstatic.

    The visiting family didn’t quite understand. What’s the big deal? So the boy can throw a football? So what?

    “No,” the parents said to the visiting family said. “You don’t understad. This is the first thing he’s ever done well!”

    Now this sounds like a made up story and, even if it is not, it sounds irrelevant. It is neither.

    The little boy was Terry Bradshaw, a little boy who was plagued by learning disability. But he could throw the football. From the confidence he gained from that, he learned to play the game of football. He went to college. He won four Super Bowls. He used that to have a long and successful career as a football commentator.

    All because his parents recognized the one thing he could do.

    I didn’t mean to be long winded here on your blog, but I have a son who his challenged in his own way and it is a struggle as a parent to deal with that. I find myself in my own meltdowns and anxiety almost constantly.

    I haven’t found it, yet, but it can just take one thing in this situation to make all the difference in the world.

    You are doing all you can for your child. Keep it up!
    Thanks for this post!

    • Hi. Nice to meet you. Thanks so much for writing to comment. I really like this story, and I’m so glad you shared it. Long-winded is fine by me. I tend to write some rather long comments myself 🙂 Thanks very much for your encouragement. I wish you some peace in your own situation.

  6. Aspergirl Maybe said:

    This is so wonderful to hear, although it makes me a bit sad. We attempted Cub Scouts, but because we were starting in grade 2, the Tiger badge wasn’t an option and my son refused to go if he couldn’t get it.

    Someone recently suggested that we try again at the beginning of Boy Scouts, so we may do that, although my husband isn’t interested in any outdoor activities, so it would fall on me to facilitate everything.

    I think I need to just let go of my feelings over this and open myself up to other possibilities that may arise.

    On another topic, I have seen some blogs where they put a “cast of characters” in the sidebar and thought you might like that idea for listing out who Simon, etc are.

    • Hi, Aspergirl Maybe.

      I’m sorry to hear about your sad experience with the Cub Scouts. For what it’s worth, “Alvin” has a close friend who joined for a while, then felt a need to stop, then joined back up with the Boys Scouts a few Years later and seems happy with it. He has an Asperger diagnosis, too. Anyway, it’s certainly a possibility.

      I have a hard time letting go of feelings about things that have happened in the past. Sometimes I find myself wanting to avoid activities that bring up unhappy memories from experiences with my oldest son, but those things might actually be fun for the younger boys. Open is always good, but you have to do give yourself permission to feel what you feel and do what you can manage, too.

      That’s an interesting idea about the “character” names. I’ll have to think about that.

      As always, it’s good to hear from you. Hope it’s a good weekend for you.


      • Aspergirl Maybe said:

        That’s good to hear about Alvin’s friend. I guess I’ll have to revisit the topic in a couple of years and see where we are all at with it.

        We have tried a number of things that didn’t really work out, but I am determined not to let that stop me from trying other things that seem like they might be a good fit for my son and our life/schedule.

        Take care!

  7. I’m so glad that you found an environment in which Simon can thrive. Non-competitive, structured group activities can work wonders for spectrum kids, so long as their needs are understood and respected. Martial arts training is a similar activity that can build the same kind of confidence.

    If you’re interested, Gavin Bollard writes a lot about his Aspie sons’ very positive experience with scouting at Life with Aspergers. He’s an Aspie as well, so you have a lot in common!

    • Hi, Rachel. It’s good to hear from you.

      I checked out the blog you mentioned and immediately spotted a post that interested me and left a comment. I also subscribed.

      Thanks for the suggestion. Hope you’re having a good weekend.


  8. Your post really reinforces what I have been thinking lately, which is that my son needs some real life opportunities to practice what he’s learned. We go to fill out the cub scout paperwork this week and then I think his first meeting is the beginning of Feb. I am sooo nervous! Thanks for the encouragement!

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