Tag Archives: scouts

Two Literal Minds

The Scene: A Boy Scout meeting inside a church hall. About twenty scouts are in attendance, and their parents and siblings, as this is family night. A game, like TV game shows such as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, is in progress. The room is rather boisterous, with people shouting out answers, and the mother of the autistic teen is always amazed at how her son is now able to filter all the sensory stimuli and can handle being in the room. Not only can he handle it, he is participating, calling out answers, exuberantly displaying his excitement when he is correct. His mother is seated next to another mother of a scout, a preteen with Asperger’s. The two boys are also in the same social skills class together. When the game ends and the winning team is the one that the autistic teen is on, he stands up, does a little dance a la MC Hammer, and sings “Can’t touch this!” People in the surrounding area laugh good-naturedly. Suddenly, the Aspie gets up out of his chair, walks across the aisle to the autistic teen as he is singing, and touches him gently with an outstretched index finger. Thwarted, the autistic teen says, “Aagghh!” and sticks his tongue out at the fleeing Aspie.

Their mothers laugh out loud together.

Scouts Are the Best

Last night Nigel had a Scout meeting. I was a bit apprehensive because the last meeting did not go well, meaning Nigel’s behavior. And because I could not pinpoint what had caused his step backward, I worried that he might continue down that road.

But as I have come to learn, autism is nothing if not unpredictable. Inconsistent. And so I shouldn’t have been surprised when Nigel did really well at the meeting last night. He didn’t interrupt anyone, he only got in someone’s face once, and it was brief, he participated and paid attention. He even requested, appropriately, to show the other Scouts something he had brought with him. He needed to bring it in from the car, and the Scoutmaster said that he could do that near the end of the meeting.

And that’s when I got a little nervous. He wanted to show them a little stuffed animal toy that he had received for his recent fourteenth birthday. It was Gizmo, from the movie Gremlins, and he had barely let it out of his sight since he received it Friday night. He had been sleeping with it every night; he brought it with him to his social skills class on Monday. I knew that someone with an emotional age of eight or nine couldn’t realize that typical twelve- to fifteen-year-olds would not find his little stuffed animal to be nearly as intriguing as he did. I wondered what sort of a response to expect from them.

When the time came, Nigel went out to the car and retrieved Gizmo. He reentered the room with it hidden under his jacket and made a big deal out of keeping it a secret until he was ready to reveal it. Of course the boys were wondering what he had under his jacket. A fascinating geode? A live animal? They kept prompting him to show them, and finally he did. I held my breath.


I needn’t have worried. Once he identified what it was, they all said, “That’s cool, Nigel,” and he took it around the room so all of them could look at it, which they politely did. They did not speak to him in a patronizing manner. They did not roll their eyes or make disparaging remarks. They got it. They realized that this was something important to Nigel, and they were supportive. And I wanted to hug all of them.

So here’s a big shout-out to the Scouts of Troop 535 and their parents: You guys are so great. You make Nigel feel accepted, and he appreciates it, and so do I. Thanks so much for your patience and understanding. It means more than you know.

Calamity at Scout Camp

Sometimes a week is just too long. Too long to focus, too long to be socially appropriate, too long to make the right decisions. Too long for there to not be any problems.

Nigel just returned from a week at Scout camp, and for the most part, everything went well. His father also attended, facilitating appropriate social interaction and keeping Nigel on track with the regular Scout duties that he would sometimes rather shirk. But Nigel participated, helped cook and clean, and attended merit badge activities for environmental science, oceanography, archery, and camping. He did really well until the last day.

Nigel, like many autistic individuals, is an animal lover. He loves our cats, his father’s dog, and the rodents we’ve had, including his very own mouse. He loves animals of most kinds, including fish, birds, and reptiles (insects, not so much). And so he was nearly obsessed with the birds’ nest that was at the Scout camp. There were baby birds in it, up in a tree, and all of the Scout groups took turns going to observe the nest. Scouts and adult leaders alike enjoyed watching the baby birds and their parents.  Nigel, more excited than most, decided that he wanted to hold one of the babies.

Well, I’m sure you can see where this is going. In his attempt to retrieve the nest, it fell to the ground. Afraid that he would get in trouble, he left the scene. Everyone at camp soon discovered that the nest had been knocked down and the babies had died, and they all wondered who was responsible. Nigel’s dad had a feeling, so he privately asked Nigel if he had done it. Nigel, visibly upset, admitted his terrible mistake.

It pains me to think of my poor son in such turmoil, berating himself for not thinking about the consequences of his actions, feeling such guilt and remorse that he caused himself to projectile vomit because of his nerves. He has made mistakes of this magnitude before, and after dealing with the consequences, I’ve always assured him that making mistakes is part of growing up, that we all do it, autistic or not. He often blames his neurological difference, saying, “It’s because of the A word. I have a defective brain.” Telling him that different does not mean defective doesn’t seem to help much.  I hate that “the A word” causes him to devalue himself.

And so we get through the day – the week – with another “learning experience” under our collective belts.  Some weeks there’s just more to learn, I guess.

Lack Thereof

Yesterday I wrote a post about Nigel showing empathy without being prompted, and today I thought I’d write one to illustrate his development in that area, and how far he’s come.

Nigel has been involved in Scouting since 2004, and it has been entirely positive. He’s been in Boy Scouts for two years and was in Cub Scouts for almost two years. Three years ago, when he was ten, we were attending a monthly Pack Meeting at the elementary school, and there was a stage set up in the gym for the school’s annual talent show, which was held that same week. The Pack Meetings were typically held in the gym, so all the kids had fun climbing on the stage and play-acting. One Scout’s younger sister (about age four) slipped and somehow became wedged in between the stage and the wall behind the stage. She was stuck tight, and it took at least five minutes of planning and carefully moving the stage to get her out. One of her thighs had taken the brunt of being stuck, so it had been scraped, but other than that, she did not appear to be seriously injured, and was mostly crying out of fear.

The whole episode peaked Nigel’s interest. If I had realized the reason behind his interest and taken into account his lack of empathy, I would have stopped him from going over to the worried parents as they comforted their daughter when she was removed from the stage. I would have stopped him anyway, if I had been close enough to him, since I didn’t want him getting in the way. But he was not near me when I saw him walk quickly over to the parents, and I dashed to catch up to him to distract him before he could reach them. I arrived just as he loudly asked, “Can I see the scar?” The mother scowled at him, turned, and walked away carrying her daughter.

I, mortified, apologized to the father and led Nigel away, explaining to him that what he asked was not appropriate when people are hurt. At the time I thought the concept was lost on him. “I didn’t want to touch it; just look at it,” he persisted. But something about my response must have stayed with him. He must have absorbed it, filed it away, as he does with every other piece of information that comes his way. And gradually, over the years, he is learning to apply it, along with every other time I’ve tried to teach him about empathy, what is appropriate to say or not, and what would be the best response in a situation. He is learning that what really matters are people and how they feel. And as evidenced by what happened on the recent backpacking trip, he’s starting to do this on his own.