Once a month we host a full troop event in which all 32 girls come together for an activity. For example, we attended a native peoples event with our local parks department. The girls learned about Georgia’s native peoples, made pottery and corn husk dolls, and played games. I called the parks department ahead of time and told staff members that we were coming, and they were so on top of it they even had extra volunteers to help us out. The girls had an awesome time!
We've found that, just as we’d tweak activities to work for our base group, it's easy to modify activities for our adaptive group. It simply takes a little planning and patience. If you’re a leader who wants a more inclusive troop, here are a few suggestions to get started:
- Start with what you know; if you have a family member or friend who has special needs, reach out to that particular community.
- If you don’t have that connection, contact local schools and ask if you can provide the special education teachers with recruiting pamphlets. Make sure those materials specifically say that girls with special needs are welcome in Girl Scouts. Special needs parents are used to assuming our children are excluded, so you have to wave us down to get our attention.
- Another key to troop success with girls on the spectrum is keeping their parents or caregivers involved. The parents in my troop come to the meetings and sit with their daughters and participate. This is helpful if I’m unaware a girl is having a bad day or if she has fears or issues about certain things; their parent helps me out.
- Like any other troop, don't be afraid to tell parents that you need help—they’ll pitch in, especially when they see the effort you’re making to include their girls. Let them know how they can best assist.
- Importantly, talk to the girls not on the spectrum (or those who have other disabilities) about being differently abled! The conversation can be as simple as, “This is Suzie, and she has autism and doesn't talk very much. Does everyone know what autism is? Do you know anyone with autism?” With those conversations, you’ll normalize differences in the world . . . because differences are normal in the world.
All of our girls and parents love being part of Girl Scouts—and we’re so very happy to have them with us. It's been a wonderful experience bringing Girl Scouts to a population that didn't think it was even an option for them. This is truly one of the best things I've ever done.
I stress to everyone I meet, however, that we’re not a special needs Girl Scout troop; we’re a Girl Scout troop. Because Girl Scouts is for everyone.