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Every Scout Matters!

Special Needs Scouting in Westchester-Putnam BSA

Here at WPCBSA, we believe strongly that ALL Scouts are important and capable of succeeding in the largest youth program in the USA! Many Scouts with special needs can accomplish the basic skills of Scouting but may require extra time to learn them. Working with these youth will require patience and understanding on the part of unit leaders and other Scouts. A clear and open understanding should exist between the unit leadership and the parents or guardians of the special needs Scout. Both are required to give extra effort, but in both cases, the effort will be well worth it. 

That is why WPCBSA has formed a Special Needs Scouting committee to be a resource for Scouts, parents and leaders. The mission statement of the SNScouting Committee:

Our mission is to support and encourage all scouting youth with special needs & their families; & to offer equal opportunities for these scouts to participate to the best of their abilities in a rewarding scouting experience within the Westchester-Putnam Council, BSA.

How the Special Need Scouting Committee Supports Units:

  • Promote all aspects of Disability Awareness
  • Approve & Assist Advancement Alternatives
  • Approve & Assist Alternative Registration
  • Assist with Intake Assessments (as needed)
  • Provide Exceptional & Continuous Training
  • Present Annual Awards to Scouters for Exceptional Service
  • Other Council-related initiatives (longer term)

Key Message to all Units:

  • • The WPC Special Needs Scouting Committee is an enormous & available resource.
    • Be prepared and welcoming of any special needs youth & their family that wants to join your unit.
    • Let your youth leaders know that your unit is available to potential Special Needs youth. 
    • Be aware of alternative membership registration and advancement substitutes.
    • Depending upon the severity of the disability or handicap, reach out to the new Special Needs Scouting Committee to assist with pre-joining family conference.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How are Special Needs or Disabilities defined?

There are many different types but they are generally defined in the following five categories.  Youth sometimes have challenges in more than one category:

  1. Learning—an impairment in which a youth functions below level in one or more academic or skill areas (includes perceptual disabilities, communication disorders, and others).
  2. Cognitive—a condition in which a student functions below their chronological age level in all areas of intellectual or cognitive development (often socially immature; 90% are only mildly cognitively disabled).         
  3. Developmental—a condition in which a person functions below level in all academic or skill areas (a severe, chronic set of functional limitations that result from physical and/or mental impairment).          
  4. Physical—a physical impairment         
  5. Emotional & Behavioral Disorder—an emotional or behavioral impairment, e.g., attention-related issues.

How & when are alternative advancements used?

For Cub Scouts, advancement is flexible and allows substitution where a disability becomes an obstacle.  Cub Scouting is adaptable to all Scouts with disabilities without special instruction on each achievement. 

For Boy Scouting, the BSA philosophy of inclusion is such that the youth should feel as much like their fellow scouts as possible.  Scout must complete as many of existing requirements as possible.  If a Scout’s disability limits him in completing a particular requirement or merit badge, then he may wish to apply for alternative requirements for Tenderfoot through First Class, or for an alternative merit badge as stated in the current official literature of the BSA. 

How can I provide effective leadership for a youth with special needs when I am not a health expert?

Many of the same general leadership techniques for giving instruction/ encouragement/ supervision that apply to the general population are applicable to special needs youth.  Set a good example and accept, respect and embrace disabled youth—they are normal in most ways, but have additional challenges.  Visit with the parents and learn more about the child’s abilities and preferences as well as the nature of the disability and any special health-related needs--there are special assessment forms available.   Focus reward on achievement and proper behavior, and above all, judge by their ABILITIES.  Additional helpful BSA training modules will be provided.

Where can I find out more about the official BSA resource material for Scouts with Special Needs?

The primary source is Link.  On this webpage, Scout leaders will find two primary documents that cover almost every question one might have:  Guide to Working With Scouts With Special Needs & Disabilities (12 pages) and Scouting for Youth with Disabilities Manual (155 pages).   Also the Westchester-Putnam Special Needs Scouting Committee will update the WPC website with additional contacts and available local information as it becomes available.

We are always looking for interested adults to join the Special Needs Scouting Committee.
If you would like to join or have any recommendations or feedback, please send an email to


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