Special Needs and Disability Committee
The Northern Star Scouting Special Needs and Disabilities Committee provides training, resources, and support to educate and engage leaders, volunteers, and staff to ensure understanding and inclusion for youth of all abilities in all units of the council. If your unit has questions or concerns regarding a Scout with a disability or special need, our committee is here to help! We have several resources and are happy to act as a guide to you and your unit or family.
Special Purpose Scouting Units
In general, Scouts with special needs or disabilities are encouraged to join a typical local unit in their community. But some units are more willing to make accommodations for special needs than others. For example, a Scout with autism might flourish in a particular troop as long as the Scouts and leaders can make adjustments to prevent anxiety triggers or other problems. A different Scoutmaster might lack the experience or patience to understand and enact such accommodations.
One solution is to start or join a special purpose unit dedicated to youth with a particular disability. For example, a special purpose unit could be a troop containing many members with intellectual disabilities, or a crew containing many members on the autism spectrum, or a pack with all members being deaf or blind. The units have the special purpose of providing the Scouting program in many of its forms while focusing on the particular needs of those members. The unit can modify activities more effectively to match the Scouts’ special needs than in typical units. Units are established by a group of parents who want to provide Scouting to their children with special needs. In some cases, the units were started by an organization that serves youth with special needs. For example, the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind sponsored a Scout troop for over 60 years. More recently the school’s students have joined a pack and troop sponsored by a local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Many other specialized schools across the nation have sponsored local units.
As part of its outreach program, the Northern Star Council has supported units in group homes for developmentally disabled adults and in special needs classrooms across school districts. Units have also been organized in social clubs for young people with developmental disabilities. The program is funded through special endowments and grants.
If you can’t find a unit to join, maybe the neighborhood contains a core group of friends interested in Scouting, and they can start their own unit. For example, groups of friends with Down syndrome, aided by their parents, have started troops in Minnesota. The Scouts were all over 18, so they all registered beyond the age of eligibility. The troop and its members stayed together for decades camping out and working on advancement. A few have earned the Eagle rank. A similar troop is based out of Dallas, Texas. These members have been a “family” for many, many years; their pace is geared more to the needs of each individual.
Special purpose units seem to work well for Scouts with a specific disability or special need. Consideration in forming a special purpose unit is based upon comparable age and ability. For many units, advancement drives the program for most members even though advancement is only one part of the eight Methods of Scouting. In special purpose units, the goal may simply be to learn social skills, learn to camp or just have fun fishing and canoeing. Scouting can accommodate all of these things, but sometimes it’s best to have a unit that focuses more on one thing rather than all things at once.
— excerpt from The Abilities Digest, Vol 10, No. 3, Summer 2023