Promoting inclusion in community and recreational organisations

Participation  in community-based service and recreational programs has been found to positively impact the quality of life of individuals with ASD (Garcia-Villamisar & Dattilo, 2011). Engaging in these types of activities, provides the opportunity to shape identity and aspirations for the future, provide a sense of belonging, creativity and personal achievement (Lockwood & O'Meara, 1999a). Children with ASD however patriciate in fewer such activities than their peers and unlike their peers, do not increase their participation as they move into adolescence.

Limited research has been conducted to ascertain the barriers that may prevent children with ASD from participating in inclusive community programs. This article reports on the the initial findings of research conducted to begin to fill this gap. A poster version of this research summary was presented at the 2016 Aspect Autism In Education Conference and is available for download.

Research Questions

The study explored the attitudes, experiences and needs of Scout and Girl Guide leaders in Australia regarding the inclusion of children with ASD. Specifically:

  1. What are the experiences and attitudes of Scouting and Girl Guide leaders regarding factors that promote or hinder the inclusion of children with ASD in their programs?
  2. What types of training and support do Scout and Girl Guide leaders feel they need to enable them to promote the inclusion of children with ASD in their programs?


An online and paper survey of active Scout and Guide leaders was conducted. The survey was adapted from McConkey, Mullan, and Addis (2011) with additional qualitative and ASD specific questions added. An inductive thematic analysis was then conducted to identify patterns and themes in the open ended responses to ensure the experiences and voices of the leaders were represented.


Response Demographics

Experiences & Attitudes to Inclusion

Supportive Themes

Child's right to participate

Because they have a lot to offer and are entitled the same as any other youth to enjoy the benefits offered by the Scouting Movement

Challenge is itself a positive

Every one needs to be included in community programs, just because a child may have ASD does not mean they can not learn from the experiences offered by scouting, and Leaders can learn a lot from ASD children also.

Greater Parental Involvement

I find most of these parents would do anything for their child, and are very willing to help out (usually behind the scenes, by talking to the leader to offer advice on the way to approach things/situations, what works at home, etc...)”

Positive past experiences

Because the last two children progressed to the next level with little or no problems. They settled into the group and I feel that they gained a lot from the experience, as did the leaders involved

Challenging Themes

Lack of training and experience

… because I have never had dealings with anyone who suffers ASD and need to know I can cope and be fair, to both the child and the rest of the children

Increased risks

While the aim is guiding for all girls, including those with special needs, it should not be to the detriment of other girls. e.g. girls should feel safe at guides and a girl with serious behaviour problems may place this in jeopardy which would not be acceptable.

Unfair to other children

Yes we know the laws etc however they [other children] pay fees to attend scouts and they also expect to get something out of it. Does the person with the disability have more rights than other people? The troop should not be made feel they are dreadful people because they don't change to accommodate one person.[sic]

Additional burden on leaders

We are not medically trained or professional educators, just volunteers who give our time, energy and concern to the organisation. Be careful how much you ask of us or we may not be there at all

Training & Supports

Respondents described the additional types of training and support they felt would enable them to better support the inclusion of children with ASD in their programs. After inductive analysis these needs were grouped into the following categories.

Improving Collaboration

  • Better relationships with parents
  • Use teachers knowledge of child
  • Health & allied health professionals
  • Transition between age based sections
  • Leaders in other groups
  • District & State leaders and administrators
  • Balance privacy concerns with need to share information

Access to Resources

  • Access to ASD resources e.g. PECS
  • Financial support for parents (fee relief)
  • Transport Assistance
  • Equipment to address sensory and physical needs
  • Leader to child ratio needs
  • Effective use of parent helpers


  • Translating parent provided supports to Scouting environment
  • Activity and program adaptation strategies
  • Instructional adaptation strategies
  • Award scheme assessment adaptations


Scout and Guide leaders in Australia have expressed a strong desire to include children with ASD in their programs. Many however feel challenged to do so due to a lack of training on the practical aspects of doing so without negatively impacting on their capacity to run a safe and engaging program.

Leaders in this study expressed their desire for training beyond that just explaining the characteristics of ASD, and felt that the information and strategies needed to be contextualised for their organisation, local context and program goals.

Next Steps

The themes and supports identified through this research will inform the development of resources and programs to better support the inclusion of children with ASD in community and recreation programs and organisations.

References & Acknowledgments

I would like to greatly acknowledge the Scouting and Guiding leaders and administrators who both contributed to and promoted this research across Australia.

  1. Garcia-Villamisar, D., & Dattilo, J. (2011). Social and Clinical Effects of a Leisure Program on Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5(1), 246-253.
  2. Lockwood, R., & O'Meara, W. (1999). Politics and Disability. In R. Lockwood & A. Lockwood (Eds.), Recreation and Disability in Australia (pp. 44-60). Western Australia: UNiversity of Western Australia.
  3. McConkey, R., Mullan, A., & Addis, J. (2011). Promoting the social inclusion of children with autism spectrum disorders in community groups. Early Child Development and Care, 1-9.

Todd Whitehead

As a passionate advocate for my children, I am determined to help them and the world become better friends so they can live a rewarding life of their choosing.

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