By Maloree Anderson
Jul 25, 2016

Cub Scouts with Special Needs

During the 2016 University of Scouting, I attended a class that focused on Cub Scouting with special needs. The class was taught by Deann Torsak, whose son has high functioning autism (Aspergers). She introduces herself as someone who does not have any formal special needs training through education; she does, however, have experience through co-managing a special needs hockey team, her son, and being called as the Assistant Disabilities Specialist for her stake.


Deann began by asking three volunteers to come up for an exercise involving a puzzle. One participant had to put their dominant arm behind them and only use their non-dominant arm to complete the puzzle. The second participant had to close her eyes and the third was free to complete the puzzle without any hindrance, (at least that’s what you thought). They had a short time limit to complete this simple task. Time was up and Deann asked each volunteer what their disability was. Of course, one was using only one arm, one was having no sight, and last was actually not having the right puzzle pieces.

“That’s one of the ways I like to visualize being autistic… you don’t have all the pieces to your puzzle.”

Deann summarized, “That’s one of the ways I like to visualize being autistic or maybe having another mental or intellectual disability is that sometimes you feel like you don’t have all the pieces to your puzzle.”

She then quoted Guide to Advancement for Members with Special Needs under Advancement Flexibility Allowed, which stated,

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“Advancement is so flexible that, with guidance, most Cub Scouts with disabilities can complete requirements. The standard is, “Has he done his best?” It may take him longer to attempt requirements and demonstrate this, but his accomplishments will be rewarding to him, his parents, and his leaders.

There could be times, however, when a Cub Scout’s “best” isn’t enough even to get a start. For example, a boy in a wheelchair cannot pass requirements calling for walking or running. In these cases, Cubmasters and pack committees may jointly determine appropriate substitutions that are consistent with the Cub Scout showing he can “do his best/” For example, elective requirements could take the place of those found in achievements. Or in consultation with parents, other adjustments representing similar challenges could be made.”

Special-needs-featureAfter reading, Deann encouraged her class to talk to the parents of the child. If approached in an appropriate manner, you will not offend them. Most parents will tell you anything and everything that could help their child succeed in Scouting. Also, if the Cub Scout is having a rough time during activities and even acting out, invite the parents (or sibling) to join their son and help, even if it is temporary. Parents play a key factor in the behavior of the special needs child.

More advice from Deann:

  • Each child is different. Don’t assume they are all the same.
  • Working with disabled is trial and error. What may work for Child A won’t work for Child B.
  • Don’t let them use their disability as a crutch. If they set their mind to it they can do it.
  • Have a routine and structure and ease them into it. It will get better with time.
  • Ask the boys! Get parents permission to talk with the boys. They can help set boundaries for themselves.
  • Don’t underestimate a special needs child.
  • Ask for a den chief that specifically works one on one with the special needs child.
  • Keep them busy. Let them do something during class, whether that’s puzzles, coloring, or even fidget objects.
  • Do your best!
  • Be sure to know if they are on any medication.

Lastly, she closed with her favorite quote, “Don’t DIS my ABILITY.” Just because they have a disability doesn’t mean they aren’t capable.


I personally have worked with special needs children and believe that it is your privilege to work with a Cub Scout with disabilities. It will be difficult at times, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. Learn everything you can about them. Find out their strengths and build off of them. You will succeed if you demonstrate patience and love for these remarkable Cub Scouts.




Author: Maloree Anderson | is a photographer, graphic designer, mom of one, friend of Scouting and Marketing Specialist with the Utah National Parks Council, Boy Scouts of America.

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