(Part 1 of 3 on finding the right extra-curricular activities) by Kathy Kuhl

“Socialization.” The word all homeschoolers hate.

Not because we hate socialization, but because, even today, some relatives and even complete strangers keep asking us about it.

As parents of kids with special needs, we do want to help our kids develop social skills, just as we would if they were in school. And sometimes we have to seize the moment.

“My son is just opening up this year, wanting to be around other kids and I am looking for friendly opportunities,” Mary wrote today, asking if I could help her find a Boy Scout troop open to boys on the spectrum.

Whether it’s a Boy Scout troop, Girl Scout, American Heritage Girls, Royal Rangers, or any other scouting program, here are my five tips for finding a good fit for your exceptional child:

1. Ask your local homeschool support groups. Find out who’s in the scouting program(s) you are interested in, by asking homeschooling friends and by posting to local homeschool lists. When you get replies, ask if you can call and ask a few questions. Chances are the parents will love to tell you about what their kids are doing.

If you are talking to a stranger or someone who doesn’t understand your child’s special need, plan ahead. Think of short ways to explain your child’s behavior: “He loves camping and is very diligent, but is a bit socially awkward,” “She misses social cues, but is very kind-hearted and loves crafts.” This stranger, even the scout master, doesn’t need too much detail initially.

2. Ask your local chapter of your favorite special needs support organization: CHADD, the Autism Society, Learning Disabilities Association.

3. Check with your local chapter of the ARC, which deals with a variety of special needs.

4. Realize that every troop and group is different. When we were looking for a Boy Scout troop many years ago, a friend advised us to visit a least three troops. She said, if we weren’t happy with the first, keep trying. Every group has its own personality.

And if you visited a group two or three years ago, didn’t like it, and are now looking for a similar activity, you might go back. That kid your child couldn’t stand may have grown up. (Or you child may have.) The unsympathetic parent may have moved on. The culture of the group could change, especially in cities, towns, and suburbs where people frequently move in and out.

5. When you find the right group, give the leaders a little, but not too much, information. When they do ask a question, resist the urge to launch into your excellent five minute lecture on your child’s disabilities. (I’ve felt that urge.) You don’t want the leaders afraid to ask you anything. Keep it simple.

And keep it practical:

“Tom loves scouts. He has attention deficit disorder. He’s not hyperactive, but he is easily distracted. So when you need his attention, please call his name before you give him instructions. A tap on the arm can get his attention. Thanks so much for working with the troop.”

“Sarah is so glad to be in this group. She has an auditory processing disorder that makes it hard for her to make out one voice from other sounds. Her ears work fine Talking louder won’t help. Make eye contact first, tap her arm, and say her name. Then move to the side of the room where it is quieter. We are so grateful for your work with the girls. Can I bring refreshments next month?”

When you’ve found the right group or troop, what next? Join me next week for tips on helping your child succeed in that group activity.

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