As Stanley Jaskiewicz watched his son Peter toss aside his fears and plunge into a swimming hole at summer camp, he reflected on the tremendous growth he’d seen in the boy who not long before struggled to feel comfortable at troop events.
This could be the story for any parents who watch their children grow up in Scouting. But for Stanley, Peter’s progress as a Scout with autism was markedly significant.
Stanley is a realist. He knows he and his wife Judy will not be around to guide Peter forever. That’s where Scouting and the enriching values imparted by the Boy Scouts of America’s programs come in. While standout leadership development is often touted as Scouting’s most valuable component, the programs’ ability to impart basic life skills flies under the radar. On top of this list of basics for the Jaskiewicz family: the ability for Peter to “hang out”.
As defined by Stanley, the ability to hang out is to be able “to pull your chair up to the campfire and just sit with the guys and talk.”
From the triumphant completion of Peter’s Cycling Merit Badge to tough lessons in learning to ask for help, the Jaskiewiczes have seen their son transformed by Scouting. And as Stanley, who also assumes the role of the charter organization representative, puts it, Scouting has allowed Peter to assimilate into the troop and, yes, hang out.
He explained, “For Peter that was a very hard thing to do, but now he does it – to the point where he tells me to get lost. ‘You can go to your tent. We’re OK here.’”
Scouting for Independence
For Life Scout (and Eagle Scout hopeful) Peter Jaskiewicz, Scouting offers no shortage of fun, great memories, new skills, and – most importantly – a chance to be “one of the guys”.
As to his challenges as a Scout with autism, Peter said, “That doesn’t stop me from doing stuff.”
That’s the attitude the Jaskiewiczes tasked Peter’s Scouting leaders to assume.
Early in Peter’s Scouting career, a Scoutmaster asked Stanley, “What do I need to do differently for him?”
The answer was nothing. Peter needed to be treated like any other Scout. His dad came along to activities to support him and help with challenges associated with autism. And thanks to clear guidance from leaders and encouragement from fellow Scouts, Peter has thrived.
“I think kids who are in Scouting are a little bit more inclined to be charitable in their dealings with each other,” Stanley explained. “When Peter first joined, some of the older boys went out of their way to involve him in little ways.”
Whether by asking Peter to carry the troop’s flag at summer camp or voting him into the prestigious, peer-elected Order of the Arrow, Peter’s fellow Scouts support him.
Peter’s own diligence is not to be diminished, however. With college and a slew of careers (video game designer among the favorites) on his mind, Peter hopes to achieve Eagle Scout this year. He explains, “I’m almost there. I just have to finish my report and then BAM! I’m done!”
For his service project, Peter spearheaded a collection drive for Indian Creek Foundation, the organization that sent therapists to his home when he was first diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Since his diagnosis, Stanley and Judy have seen their son immerse himself in Scouting. And since being a Scout, they’ve witnessed burgeoning independence in Peter. As he’s grown from needing his father at troop activities to shooing him away for more time with the guys, Peter has changed. “And that’s when I knew that this had worked,” Stanley said.
While Judy and Stanley may not have forever with Peter, they do have now. With a myriad of Scouting memories and the hope of having an Eagle Scout in the immediate family, the Jaskiewiczes are making the most of the present by preparing their son for a future unhampered by autism. And as for Peter, he’s busy being one of the guys.
For more information on Scouting and autism, check out these four inspiring stories and the BSA’s guide to working with Scouts with special needs.