A Scout is friendly.
That aspect of the Scout Law has had a huge impact on one local family. Around the time that Ben and Heather Pardue’s two sons, Evan and Holden, were diagnosed with autism several years ago, they noticed a shift in their friendships.
“We stopped getting invited to birthday parties,” Ben remembers. “There were so many friends who we used to do all kinds of things with, and as our kids’ behaviors began to take over, it made other people feel uncomfortable. It hurts when you feel excluded from things.”
Heather recognized Evan’s love of the outdoors and suggested learning more about the Scouting program. They met with a Cubmaster at the school’s open house and were invited to try out a meeting. “The Boy Scouts were super receptive to our situation and made us feel wanted,” Ben says. “The den leader said, ‘I don’t know anything about autism, but I’m willing to do whatever if you’ll help me.'”
At their very first Cub family campout, Evan had a rough first night. Wanting to do things already designated for others, he threw a loud fit. Ben calmed him down and other leaders made accommodations for Evan to feel more involved, then something suddenly clicked for him.
“Evan realized he needed to follow the rules and do what was expected,” Ben says. “He said, ‘If I want to do these things, I have to have the behavior to do them.’ He has never had any behavior issues after that.”
When it came time for Evan to move up into Boy Scouts, Ben was told about troops geared more toward kids with special needs. But Evan had grown close to the boys in his pack and wanted to stay with his friends. Ben even pointed out that the troop was “pretty hard core” and went camping often. Evan was not deterred.
Neither was Ben. He became more involved as a leader and went camping as often as possible. Evan would enjoy all of the daytime activities with the other boys and then tent at night with his dad. During summer camp, Ben would drive up each evening after work to spend the night and hear about Evan’s many adventures.
“I remember the stories I had heard of Evan being scared of jumping on The Blob,” Ben says. “Every kid, every life guard there knew him, and they cheered for him to jump. One of the assistant Scoutmasters there that week told me the story of how he finally did it and how proud Evan was.”
Perhaps one of their most vivid memories occurred on a joint trip to Philmont Scout Ranch. Evan’s troop was on-site to complete a service project when a major storm overtook them. Hail, rain, and lightning forced the group under a dining fly, their only shelter.
Suddenly Evan and the boys started singing Scouting songs.
“Everyone was so cold and wet,” remembers Ben. “The boys’ singing kind of put a silver lining on such a tough, hard position that we were in.”
It’s a moment symbolic of their own family’s journey. Caught in unexpected circumstances, they have witnessed their son respond in amazing ways to the comradery and adventure offered by the Boy Scouts.
“Boy Scouts is definitely Evan’s thing,” Ben says. “It’s his sports, his social interaction…it’s what he lives for. He loves telling me things that he learned in Scouts.”
Ben has gained a lot, as well. “My best friends are the other Scout leaders and parents,” he says. Ben is now an assistant Scoutmaster.
Evan has reached the rank of Eagle Scout, but he still wants to do more. His Scoutmaster is starting up a sea Scout crew for young men up to the age of 21. Evan, currently 16, is very excited about it. He also has enough merit badges for his first palm.