When I was a girl, the place for adventure was Camp Fire Girls. I had tried Girl Scouts as a first-grader, but never liked arts & crafts or citizenship lessons very much. I wanted to be outdoors, building fires, camping and learning Native American lore. Once I found Camp Fire, I stayed until I graduated from high school and later became a camp counselor for them. When I was in high school, Camp Fire became Co-educational and everything started to change. Now, it is a minor organization with little support from the community. Girl Scouts, however, is still going strong. As an adult, I learned that the reason I didn’t like being a Brownie had nothing to do with scouts but rather the activities the leader had chosen to do with us. Find the right leader or program and you can have the same sort of adventures I had as a child.
Fast forward to the year my middle child was diagnosed with autism as a toddler…. One of the first things I felt depressed about was that Deborah was never going to have the same exciting childhood I had because of her disability. Camping with other girls, canoe trips, horseback riding, backpacking, traveling internationally all seemed impossible. In retrospect, it was kind of silly to be worried about such things, given the enormous task ahead just preparing her to be able to live in a group home instead of an institution. Back then, however, it had not sunk in that it was her adulthood I really needed to worry about. I only thought about the next 10 years, not realizing the severity, pervasiveness and permanence of her condition.
After the initial shock and depression abated, I got to work. If my child had a disability, then it was my duty to fix it and I jolly well intended to do just that. That, too, was the wrong attitude, but it did motivate me to act instead of wallowing in self-pity. I was determined to keep her included in normal childhood activities so that she would have the opportunity to develop just like my other children. When Deborah was in kindergarten, therefore, I went to a scout rally and signed her up. No one wanted her in their troop and her registration was rejected.
This proved to be a Pearl Harbor moment for me. I just got mad and resolved not to let this injustice stand. There was going to be a place for Deborah and other excluded girls in the Girl Scouts if I could do anything about it. I became a leader. Eight years have passed and I’ve learned a lot about scouting and how to include girls with disabilities. In future blogs, I’ll pass on specific activities I’ve done and how I’ve made them work for Deborah. You can do this, too, but you will probably have to take on a leadership role to make it happen. It’s been worth it for my family and it can be for yours as well. There’ll be more later about scouting and special needs children.
© 2013, Margaret. All rights reserved.