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The Scout Association is committed to being inclusive and all Groups should make reasonable adjustments to support young people with additional needs. This includes autism, so that all young people can access Scouting and progress between the Sections.

Click here for more information about our policy.

With the right support, there is no reason why a young person with autism cannot fully access Scouting. There are already some great things about Scouting for young people with autism, and the range of activities and experiences offered may help them to reach their full potential. However, there are also some things that they may find challenging and need extra support with.

These pages will help you to better understand and support young people with autism in Scouting.

Principles and strategies

Visual supports


Further information and support

What is autism?

Autism is a lifelong condition affecting how someone communicates with and relates to other people and the world around them. It can be thought of as an invisible or hidden disability.

Individuals with autism share certain areas of difficulty, but are affected in different ways and of different levels.

This is why the term Autism Spectrum Disorder or Condition (ASD/ ASC) exists. There are a range of terms that may be used which fall on this spectrum, including autism, high-functioning autism (HFA) and Asperger Syndrome.

Autism can be referred to as a hidden disability, as you can't tell that someone has autism just by looking at them and this can lead to the individual being misinterpreted or judged. Young people with autism are also more vulnerable to bullying, with over 40% of children with autism having been bullied at school (National Autistic Society, 2006).

Some individuals with autism are able to have independent lives and careers, whereas others will require specialist support throughout their lives. Some individuals will have learning disabilities (44% to 52% according to the National Autistic Society) or another difficulty such as dyspraxia.  

Here is a link to the video My Autism and Me which can give you an insight into the lives of some young people with autism. Or read about Queen's Scout Award holder, Bethanie Pearce or Explorer Scout, James' experiences of autism and Scouting.

What is Asperger syndrome?

Although the term Asperger syndrome is no longer being used in diagnosis, you may hear it used to describe those who are on the autism spectrum. They may have fewer problems with communication and are usually of average or above average intelligence. Young people with Asperger syndrome may have better or advanced language development and be more skilled in their social relationships.

How common is it?

Autism is much more common than many people think. More than 1 in 100 people in the UK have autism, and the estimates keep increasing. The National Autistic Society estimates that 5 times as many males as females have a diagnosis.

These figures may be higher in Scouting. This is due to the fact that we currently have more boys than girls and more boys are diagnosed with autism than girls.

What difficulties may a young person with autism have in Scouting?

There are some naturally supportive things about Scouting for a young person with autism. The caring environment and flexibility of the Programme will support inclusion, and our structures and routines can help the young person to feel comfortable and to engage. However, things like the levels of activity and noise within Scouting as well as new situations/ activities can cause challenges for a young person with autism.

It is important to remember that each young person with autism will be different. The core areas of difference are as follows, along with examples of possible difficulties.

Communication: difficulties in understanding and using communication effectively.

The young person is likely to be good at learning visually (eg. by watching or seeing pictures), however will have some level of difficulty, for example;

Some young people with autism may be non-verbal or use an alternative form of communication such as Makaton.

Social interaction: difficulties understanding social behaviour and interacting with others, meaning that activities involving teamwork will be more challenging. Possible difficulties and differences are:

Flexibility of thought: difficulty in thinking and behaving in a flexible way, for example;

Sensory differences:

Many young people with autism will also have sensory differences, meaning that they experience their surroundings in a different way through their senses (sight, sound, touch, taste and smell). A young person with autism may be facing a constant struggle to feel balanced and comfortable in their own body.

They may be hyper-sensitive (over sensitive) to any of their senses. For example, they may find loud noises, busy environments or touch difficult. Noisy routines such as the Grand Howl in Cub Packs may cause challenges for the young person.

This is hard for the young person to ignore and can cause distress or even physical pain. They may show behaviours to block out or escape from these experiences (eg. covering their ears or humming).

They may also be hypo-sensitive (under-sensitive), meaning that they crave more information into their senses, to feel balanced. They may show behaviours that stimulate their senses (eg. moving fingers in front of eyes, touching everything). There may also be difficulties with their awareness of their body, for example affecting motor coordination or balance.

Find out more about supporting the full participation of young people on the autism spectrum in Scouting from ACC Inclusion, Helen Gregory.

How might autism affect a young person's behaviour?

The young person's difficulties and differences may lead to unusual behaviours (eg. flapping their arms) or even challenging behaviours (eg. running off or hitting out). It can often be difficult to determine the cause of challenging behaviours, which can sometimes appear to have occurred for no apparent reason and some good detective work is needed. Remember, the difficulties in autism can lead to a high level of stress and anxiety for a young person.

Please see the links below for further information.

Principles and strategies

Visual supports


Further information and support


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