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Chief Commissioner's blog| Thinking differently

An email from a volunteer with Asperger’s syndrome got Wayne thinking about how we need to be more understanding if we are to be successful in our vision of Scouting for all.

Asperger’s syndrome

John (name has been changed) was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (an autistic spectrum disorder) in 2011.  It was only then that he got the answers which helped him to understand why he has been perceived as being 'at odds with the norm' by people he had met over the years.

He had been a Scout as a youth member and a volunteer, finding the structured format particularly comfortable.  But some people viewed him as inflexible and uncompromising, believing he had a tendency to do things 'by the book', raising issues that others did not wish to hear and, in certain situations, lacking good interpersonal skills. 

Having been a Cub since 1975, John left Scouting in the late 1990s. Only now does he realise that his Asperger’s syndrome and people’s response to it had played a large part in this.

Being open-minded

As John explains: 'Adults with Asperger’s have a lot to offer Scouting.  Putting aside interpersonal skills, people with Asperger’s syndrome are focused and do the job required. These adults, like me, do not go around introducing themselves with the words "Hi, my name is XX and I’ve got Asperger’s syndrome." We would like to be taken at face value, hoping that people are open-minded, non-judgemental and look beyond our perceived dogmatic attitudes.'

In 2010 John returned to Scouting in an administrative role although, 12 years on, there were still people in the local area who remembered him and were unhappy about his involvement. Fortunately he had a District Commissioner who was supportive and took the time to find roles that suited John’s strengths.

I have spoken with his District Commissioner of that time who confirmed that John had been most successful as a Group Scout Leader recruiting a full Group Executive and ensuring that the facilities were safe, fit for purpose and correctly run. However, a new District Commissioner was less understanding of John’s particular strengths and weaknesses. This resulted in John feeling the need to stand down as GSL and, unhappily, taking on a Scouting role in a different County. 

The DC’s perspective

The District Commissioner told me: 'When I took over as the DC, John was a relatively new but very effective District Treasurer but it was clear that he carried a lot of baggage in the District and neighbouring District.  Most of this was unfair in my view, however, John need careful "managing" a lot of the time.

'John made it clear that he only wanted to do the Treasurer role for two years.  We had a good discussion as to what other roles in Scouting he would like to do.  As a result I appointed him (despite misgivings elsewhere in the District) as Group Scout Leader. We never knew that John had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. It was unfortunate that he felt it necessary to offer his resignation as GSL.'

Understanding strengths

It strikes me that the challenge for all of us is to be willing to spend time understanding an individual’s circumstances. Looking at their strengths as well as their weaknesses, building on the former and managing the latter, is key. 

All this, I appreciate, may take time but some of the greatest goals in life are not necessarily the easiest ones to score. For our part, we will continue to build the resources available and develop a network of Inclusive Scouting Ambassadors to provide practical advice and support through the Information Centre. This will allow us to capitalise on the strengths of all our volunteers, whatever they have to offer.





By Deborah
on 21/04/2014 09:29

Thank you to all involved for highlighting this situation. I am a new GSL and my own son has ASD. I have been struggling to run a Cub Pack on my own, and help keep my own child focused on pack nights. I too was about to leave scouting. Thankfully some other parents have agreed to take on leadership roles which means not only can a small pack begin to flourish, but gives me the opportunity to keep my own son involved in an enjoyable environment where he can improve his social skills.

By David Gray
on 22/04/2014 01:47

Is the word 'unhappily' a typo? Surely John is now 'happily' in a more appropriate role in Scouting.
No David, it is correct.

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