I am the mother to two wonderful autistic boys, whom I love to write about frequently. I will let all of you know that it has come to my youngest son’s attention that I have been writing much more about his severely autistic brother lately than him, and he is not amused.
So in an effort to rectify this situation, here goes.
My youngest, Zachary, is almost twelve (!) years old, and is considered to be on the mild end of the spectrum. It wasn’t always an easy road for Zach, but over the years with therapies and maturity and lots of patience, he has grown into the stellar young man he is today.
I admit, for me there was some wine and chocolate along the way, but we got to a good place eventually.
Zach would be considered a success story by any standards. He does beautifully in school, has friends, participates in activities he loves, and most importantly, adores his life. His father and I are grateful every day that his hard work paid off and that he’ll have so many choices for his life. His is a kind-hearted soul, one I feel fortunate to raise.
This doesn’t mean that everything is always perfect- it never is with any child, but I think perfect is overrated anyhow. I will tell you that while many different things went into making my child love his life, including good therapists and excellent teachers, I will share with you that there are several activities that have had a profound impact on him, and one of them is boy scouts.
Zach started cub scouts in first grade, and by third grade I was one of his den leaders. Zach was very impulsive in his younger years, and it wasn’t always easy to manage him at den and pack meetings. Our den had an eclectic group of boys, and I can recall often being bathed in sweat by the end of a den meeting.
Den days were often wine and chocolate days.
We persevered, carefully chose his new boy scout troop, and I held my breath. We started attending meetings in March, he crossed over from cub scouts to boy scouts in June, and really started participating in the troop in September.
I will say both for Zach, and for myself, it’s been a wonderful and eye-opening four months.
Boy scouts is intrinsically different than cub scouts, as it is “boy-led”, with the scouts making most of the decisions as to what activities they do and all of the accompanying details. The boys are supposed to initiate almost every conversation- be it toward advancement in ranks, questions regarding a camping trip, or the acquisition of those valuable blue cards for merit badges.
Initiating conversations, unless they’re about Star Wars or Roblox or Minecraft are not Zach’s forte. Getting the hang of advocating for what he needs has been difficult for him, and it’s a process that requires coaching, sticky notes, and multiple tries. Cold calling adults to be his merit badge counselors is not easy either, but with a script to work on he’s getting it down.
It sounds like a simple skill this self-advocating, but I truly believe it will be one of the most important that he acquires in childhood, and scouts will be the forum wherein he learns to do this.
His father and I fully anticipate that he will attend college, hold a job, have a wife and the four (!) kids he says he wants, but despite being on the more mild end of the spectrum Zach will have some challenges along the way. I can’t stress enough the importance of independence with any child (my teaching background is kicking in here), but with kids on the spectrum, it’s imperative. It’s not just kids on the mild end either. We constantly strive with his brother Justin to further his independence in basic skills and toileting, and I constantly remind myself not to do for him what he can do for himself. And for Zach, having the skill to ask for what he needs will be imperative in gaining him that coveted independence.
I’ve already seen growth in Zach in this arena since he started boy scouts, and it has transferred over to home as well. I am hearing a lot more “I need this” and “I’ll do it myself” which is heaven to my ears (especially where chores are concerned, it’s never too early to prepare for a good marriage). I’m sure part of this newfound independence just goes with entering the last third of childhood, but I am certain scouts has influenced this new desire, and I am grateful he will have many more opportunities to self-advocate through this organization.
It’s never too early to “be prepared.”
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