Wednesday, March 19, 2014
The benefits of participating in scouting are endless. But for a boy with disabilities, they are so much more.
Andy and Loreen Fisher are the parents of a 12-year-old boy who is about to crossover between Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. This in itself is not unusual as many boys are making the transition this time of year. However, what makes Dylan unique is that he has mild autism and is legally blind with a degenerate eye disease.
The supportive Cub Scout Pack 505 family has been instrumental in his development, his parents said.
“Both with learning new things and with making friends,” according to Andy. “The experience has allowed him to make progress that would perhaps not have otherwise been possible. His story is simply remarkable... as evidenced not just by me as his father but by many in the pack who have known him the last five years.”
Andy participated in scouts as a child but never thought much about it again as he became busy with adulthood.
He and his wife were home schooling Dylan and the program coordinator became concerned that Dylan needed more socialization with peers.
He was taken to a boy scout introduction meeting one night by his therapist. It was in that moment five years ago his life changed.
Dylan's brother Brendan, now 14 years old, also joined scouts, and having just moved to the area, it was a great way for both of them to make friends.
Their sister, Maddie, 6 years old, may even follow in their footsteps.
According to Andy, Dylan was terrified at first and prone to outbursts. He was terrified of fire, making campouts difficult.
But with love and support from the other scouts' families and the scout master, Dylan adjusted and became one of them.
At age four, his parents didn't think he'd even be able to talk, but to see him today, one would never know that.
Dylan will eventually go entirely blind. But he spends one hour a day learning braille and competed in a braille challenge in which he placed second out of 15.
He loves to ride his bike and has become quite popular at school. Kayak is a favorite scouting activity for Dylan and according to his parents, he is an upbeat kid who does not let his disabilities get in his way.
Dylan is about to crossover to a Boy Scout troop and begin a new adventure with Troop 529.
Andy and a team of other scouting parents are utilizing a documented process within the Boy Scouts of America Scouting with Disabilities Program to best provide him the orientation and teaching methods to be successful in scouting, and ultimately in life.
“While Dylan's experience is remarkable and his future promising, what is unfortunate is that other families have not taken advantage of the opportunities in scouting that we have explored for Dylan,” said Andy.
“Perhaps it is the joining of my scouting background and that my wife and I having been put into an unenviable situation of having to find social opportunities for our disabled son.”
Andy and Loreen were open to communicating their story to other families in the Lowcountry, with the hopes of other young boys and families benefiting from the “road we have already paved.”
“We are not only proud of our son but how the Pack 505 scouting family has rallied around one of their own to grow them along with typically developing peers,” Loreen said.
According to his scout leader, Howard Althen, when Dylan first came to the pack, he was a lot more shy and didn't like campouts and fires. But over the years, as he's grown, he loves everything about scouts, especially campouts. “Dylan is an inspiration to not only the leaders but the boys as well,” he said. “They've adopted him as their brother and he tends to bring out the best in all the boys as well as the leaders,” Althen said.
“The boys understand his differences now and they serve not only as assistants but as a protectors as well. No one messes with Dylan. We have been able to surround ourselves with a huge community of good boys and good adults.”
Cub master Howard Althen opened doors and created a nurturing community for Dylan, his mother explained.
And when Dylan literally bridges over from Weebelows, with the help of the scouts he will be joining, it will surely be a tearjerker. It is called an Arrow of Light Ceremony.
Traditionally the cub scout will cross a lighted bridge to join the new troop. But because of his eyesight, the scouts will come and bring Dylan across that bridge, escorting him to the other side.
His brother Brendan will be among them.
Additionally, Andy and others are beginning to develop a disabilities advisory board within the local Boy Scout council to facilitate other boys' inclusion in scouting units in the area.
To become involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The board as a whole will provide resources to other troops and packs to offer support for those who put together programs for someone like Dylan.
“Scouting became an amazing thing for him and when we found out that scouting has great accommodations for disabilities we knew there had to be other families looking for opportunities for their children,” said Andy.
“We're certainly not bragging about our child, but he has accomplished some amazing things. There is no reason other families of boys different in some respects can't find something for their sons like friendships and fun. It is available to them.”
“Scouting is an opportunity for our son to experience life like everyone else,” said Andy.
“Dylan always been nice kid, almost like the essence of innocence,” said Althen.
“His disability is not looked at as such, the boys crowd around and help him to do well. He's an inspiration and so are his parents,” he said.
“Andy and Loreen are very involved with the pack and we do not have training for this. They were very up front with us and helped us to help Dylan. Afterall, we're not experts, we're just volunteers.”