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Old 04-04-2014, 11:24 AM   #1
sukhakuli
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Autism and the NPS Junior Ranger program

Has anyone had some ups and downs with this program and their ASD kids?

We go to a lot of National Parks, and the kids love doing the Junior Ranger program. My girls have no problem with the packets, but my son has moderate autism and is very academically delayed. Some places just look the book over, see he tried and let it go, which is always a nice experience for him. Yellowstone was great (overall; the ranger on our guided tour got annoyed with ds because he asked her too many questions. He loves to participate). But we've had some problems as well. At Arches the Ranger berated him, told him what a "mess" his handwriting was (he has significant fine motor delays), and that he clearly didn't try. Ds was in tears. Some parks have booklets with age ranges on them, and kids do the sections that are age appropriate. Recently at the Grand Canyon they didn't want ds to do the section for kids younger than he is. Also recently, at the Petrified Forest the Ranger wasn't going to give him his patch at all. My dh had to take ds out of the museum so I could talk privately with the ranger about ds's cognitive disabilities, and he was nice about it then to me, but it was kind of too little too late, and ds was already really upset. He looked over the girls' books and praised them all over for their work, and refused to even look at ds's. He got the badge, but we all left feeling unhappy with how he was treated.

I dislike announcing to everyone we meet that ds has autism and learning disabilities. We're kind of a "need to know" family, and not everyone needs to know. Many times he has positive experiences without me having to go and throw a label on him. But sometimes we have experiences like above, and I'm unsure what I should be doing. Should I take everyone aside and let them know he has various disabilities (he has several diagnosis), or how do you choose who to let know? We're taking the kids on another National Park trip this fall, and I want our experiences to be better than they were this last time.
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Old 04-04-2014, 11:39 AM   #2
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I would not expect for him to be allowed in a younger level, nor would I expect a badge if he truly didn't complete the requirements- I would WANT a badge for him regardless and I would hope the instructors would have the goodwill and understanding to see that he was doing his best and that they would choose to give him the badge anyway.
What I WOULD do is ask to speak to the teacher off to the side before the activity even starts. For them to be understanding, they need to be told he has a disability in advance and what he can/can't do and what help he may need, they may not be able to provide the help themselves but you could offer to stay and be his helper.
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Old 04-04-2014, 01:43 PM   #3
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If you want accommodations, you need to explain that he needs them/why he needs them. It would definitely be better to explain before rather than later, if at all possible. The rangers don't know that he really has tried his hardest otherwise. It might also give you a chance to find out what accommodations they'll allow. A ranger may even have a suggestion for an accommodation that you haven't even thought of that allows your son to do more. Depending on your son's age/ability levels, it might be time to start explaining that it's okay that he struggles to do somethings, but it does mean sometimes he needs to ask for assistance. The idea would be to ultimately get him to self-advocate. IMO it's never too young to at least start explaining that being disabled is not something to be ashamed of and is part of the diversity of human experience. The more kids hear that it's okay to have a disability, the sooner they'll be able to accept themselves and not get upset every time their disability needs to be mentioned. (Plus it will set them up for better mental health down the line.)
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Old 04-05-2014, 10:31 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Coonhound View Post
I would not expect for him to be allowed in a younger level, nor would I expect a badge if he truly didn't complete the requirements- I would WANT a badge for him regardless and I would hope the instructors would have the goodwill and understanding to see that he was doing his best and that they would choose to give him the badge anyway.
What I WOULD do is ask to speak to the teacher off to the side before the activity even starts. For them to be understanding, they need to be told he has a disability in advance and what he can/can't do and what help he may need, they may not be able to provide the help themselves but you could offer to stay and be his helper.
It's not a teacher led thing. You go to the visitor center and get a packet and a pencil, and the packet tells you how many of the activities they want you to complete. The activities vary a LOT across parks. Some are super easy 5 minute jobs, like circling wildlife and geological structures you see while you drive, and some are pages of essays. It's also a bit of a scavenger hunt, because you have to go to certain places to find certain things. Generally, it's very fun.

Unfortunately, the Petrified Forest packet was ridiculous. It was pages and pages of writing paragraphs. It was pretty geared towards a typical 10 or 11 year old. With help my 5 year old was able to complete it, but she is pretty advanced for her age. We sat at the Rainbow Museum for an hour and a half right next to the Ranger trying to complete this silly packet. He could see how hard the kids worked, and how much ds was struggling.

This is supposed to be fun, get kids interested in the National Park system, and guide them as they tour the parks. Some places we've gone they ask my ds what he was trying to write, and he can verbalize his answers pretty well. I should also note, that anyone who sees children often can tell that my ds is disabled. His is not an invisible disability. His neurological issues mean that he walks differently, on his toes and with what is referred to as the praying mantis stance. He also has severe tics, and what sounds like a very severe stutter (it's not a stutter, neurologically his brain starts and stops constantly, in very general terms). Strangers often ask what is "wrong" with ds. Why he walks funny and why he talks funny. It's fairly obvious if you observe him for more than a few minutes, and becomes more obvious as he gets older. I guess I feel like, on vacation, A for effort is good enough, KWIM? This is supposed to be fun. They gave the badges out to my dd when she was 3 or 4 just for writing her name on the packet. It's not like we're trying to pull something over on the NPS for a plastic badge.
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Old 04-15-2014, 08:27 PM   #5
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My little guy with ASD just recently got 3 badges from 1 state park and two NPs. He is only 5 though so the rangers were not expecting him to do the book without help from us. All of the rangers we came in contact with were incredibly nice and excited to have him participate. Most of them will come up with alternate options if you explain to them what your child can and can't do.
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