How Boys with Down Syndrome Become Eagle Scouts

Eagle Scout AwardA rumor says children with Down syndrome can’t earn the Eagle Scout award.

This is nonsense. See stories about Coleman and Brandt, Adam, Zach and Mike, Elliott, another Zach,  Max, Daniel, and a third Zach.

Not every Scout can hike and swim, and not every Scout advances as fast as every other. If a Scout has a bona fide medical condition, like Down Syndrome, the Scout can still take the trail to Eagle.

Some Scouts follow their own, customized trail. Alternate requirements need special approval. Scouts can get time extensions in special circumstances.

Caveat: I’m speaking as someone with a lot of experience with Scouting and special needs, and not in any official capacity within Boy Scouts.

A Scout with Down syndrome earns the same Eagle award  as any other Scout. Every Scout is supposed to complete requirements exactly as written, no more and no less. Today’s badge requirements usually allow for reading or writing disabilities. If a Scout can’t possibly meet a requirement, there are alternatives to earn the same rank.

If a disability prevents the Scout from meeting requirements for lower ranks, like Tenderfoot and First Class, the local council may approve alternate requirements. The troop must apply to the council, identify the requirements that can’t be met, provide medical documentation of the disability, and describe the alternate requirements.

Adam, for example, could not swim unaided. The council approved an alternate requirement in which he used a kickboard as an aid.

Scouts may not substitute requirements within a merit badge. If a Scout’s disability prevents earning one merit badge, the Scout must substitute it with an alternate that can be earned. Again, this requires documentation from a health care professional and the local council must approve the alternative.

Many Scouts, especially those with Down syndrome, learn more slowly than others. Zach Adams (#2 above) found it true for the Citizenship in the Community, Personal Management, and Lifesaving merit badges.

Scouts with a severe and permanent developmental disability may make progress so slowly that they can’t finish their Eagle by age 18. In such cases the Scout may be eligible to register as a Scout beyond the age of 18. Daniel, for example, finished his at age 20; friends Zach and Mike finished at age 23. Many Scouts with Down syndrome finish at later ages, some in their 50s.

Volunteers at the National Capital Area Council have published a handy chart summarizing the accommodations for earning badges and other recognitions:

Special needs advancement requirements

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