Supporting Scouts with Special Needs

Providing support to Scouts and adults with special needs

Every Scout deserves an opportunity to participate, be respected, and treated as the rest of their friends in the unit. While special needs units do exist, youth are best served in their local unit along side their friends. Some Scouts may require extra time and attention to achieve skills, and greater patience may be necessary to guide these Scouts, but the reward of success can make it all worthwhile! Clear communication with parents, an understanding of the special needs, and additional training opportunities can all be helpful to unit leadership.


Scouts with special needs may be eligible for accommodations or some flexibility to advance. Every effort should be made to meet the requirements as written, but an Individual Scout Advancement Plan (ISAP) is a helpful tool for parents and unit leadership to develop a plan for success with the Scout. In addition, the ISAP should be used, along with the Guide to Advancement, to plan modifications or alternative requirements to propose to the council advancement committee.

The completed ISAP and other documentation can be submitted to your district advancement chair for consideration.

Registration Beyond the Age of Eligibility

Youth with a permanent and severe disability that preclude typical advancement are welcome to continue in the Scouting program beyond the age of 18 (for Boy Scouts) and 21 (for Venturers). To apply, fill out the Registration Beyond the Age of Eligiblity form found in related content, and submit it to the district advancement chair. Eligible conditions may include:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Developmental delays
  • Emotional, behavioral or mental disorders
  • Physical disabilities
  • Multiple coexisting disorders.

Training opportunities

There are multiple opportunities to help you work better with Scouts with special needs. One helpful document is the Guide to Working with Scouts with Special Needs produced by the Boy Scouts of America. Additionally, watch for special needs courses offered at both the spring and fall University of Scouting. 

Finally, an awesome volunteer group has coordinated to produce a series of training videos for working with Scouts with Neuro-Biological Disorders. These videos are great as an introduction to working with Scouts with a wide variety of diagnoses, but also come in handy if you come across a specific situation. The video chapter listing lets you find exactly which section you'd like to review and the resource guide offers some additional definitions and tips for success.

Watch Neuro-Biological Disorder Videos

Part 1 Neuro-Biological Diagnoses Introduction

  • Section 1: Teaser Comments
  • Intro and Section 2: Why Is This Important?
  • Section 3: Leader Attitude
  • Section 4: NBD Definition
  • Section 5: How Can You Tell If A Scout Has A Diagnoses?
  • Section 6: What Are The Characteristics Of A Scout With NBD?
  • Section 7: How Are Scouts With NBD Just Like Other Scouts?

Part 2 Strategy and Tactics - Preventing Problems

  • Section 1: Teaser Comments
  • Section 2: Strategies and Skills for Working With Scouts With NBD: Preventing Problems
  • Section 3: Preventing Problems: Making a Connection
  • Section 4: Preventing Problems: No Surprises
  • Section 5: Preventing Problems: Bullying and the NBD Target

Part 3 Strategy and Tactics - Managing Problems

  • Section 1: Conflicts and Advice on How to Handle Them
  • Section 2: Discipline and the NBD Scout
  • Section 3: Meltdowns and How to Handle Them
  • Section 4: Sleep Issues and the Scout with NBD
  • Section 5: The Lazy Camper

Part 4 Meds and More

  • Section 1: Communicating with Parents
  • Section 2: Medication and the Scout With NBD
  • Section 3: Meltdowns and How to Handle Them
  • Section 4: Advancement and the Scout With NBD
  • Section 5: The Upside to Scouts with NBD

Special Thank You to Northern Star Council's Innovation Committee for the financial support needed to make this project possible. The Scouters in the video: George Abide, Mark Andres, Tom Harkins, Chuck Jorenby, Jon Pederson, Cole Petersen, George and Mary Wangerin, and especially Dave Zdon, Producer/Director

Polaris Volunteer Support

Polaris is our special needs district and has volunteers that are available to provide personal support, talk through complex situations, and generally offer assistance for any parents and/or unit leaders. Commissioners are available to present at district roundtables, provide information when working on the disabilities awareness merit badge, and assist with units with specific issues.

Polaris Camporees

Polaris puts on a Spring and Fall Camporee each year. These fully accessible events are open to any Scout who may have participation barriers or just wants to hang out with more Scouts like themselves. For more information, you can reach out to Tammy Kvidera using the contact information below.

Contact us

Bob Thielen

Assistant Director of Field Service