Boy Scout with nonverbal autism earns highest rank

(Photo Courtesy of Ed Hargate)

Achieving the highest honor of Boy Scouting is no easy feat: One must spend years earning 21 merit badges involving topics such as first aid, communication and environmental science.

Earning most of these requires a scout to communicate verbally, like giving a speech or collaborating with a team.

Timmy Hargate, 21, who has nonverbal autism, joined Boy Scout Troop 461 in Highland Heights, Ohio, when he was 11. He was determined to become an Eagle Scout, and after about nine years of hard work, he finally achieved that goal in December.

Only about 6.5% of all eligible scouts earned the honor in 2018, according to Scouting magazine.

“He’s very intelligent, and he understands you, but he cannot speak very well,” dad Ed Hargate said. “It was extremely difficult [for him to become an Eagle Scout] because he couldn’t do it in a typical way most kids can.”

He used alternative methods of communication

Hargate has worked with therapists at Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner School for Autism since the third grade. He’s learned how to use an iPad to type words or select pre-programmed responses.

The communications merit badge proved tricky for him. Instead of delivering a verbal presentation, he made one using PowerPoint.

To complete other merit badges that required a scout to demonstrate knowledge verbally, he would often complete written multiple-choice tests to demonstrate his understanding of the material.

Hargate didn’t want to take the easy way out, his dad said, instead often choosing to complete the toughest of the more than 100 badges. He opted to get the hiking badge and ended up traversing 55 miles in a five-day period.

More than outdoors skills

For Hargate’s Eagle Scout service project, he organized and managed the annual summer Field Day at the Lerner School. His duties included planning the activities and overseeing fellow troop members.

Although most scouts must complete Eagle requirements before 18, Boy Scouts allows exceptions for advancement for those with special needs.

“What the Boy Scouts have done is important not only in giving him outdoor education and experience but giving him the opportunity to interact with and relate with other people his own age,” Ed Hargate said.

“It gave him the confidence to be able to know that he can do things, that he can overcome that disability.”

Phoebe Mason, a speech pathologist at the Lerner School, said Hargate is always smiling and encouraging other students in the classroom.

“I think becoming an Eagle Scout would be hard for anybody, and to see what he has done is just amazing,” Mason said.

Not everyone with autism cannot speak. Autism involves a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, according to Autism Speaks. It affects about 1 in 59 children in the United States, the CDC says.

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