Autism has its challenges, but one York mom sees how Girl Scouts has opened up opportunities for her daughter.
By Catherine Amoriello
Since Girl Scouts’ inception in 1912, the organization has been focused on inclusiveness, encouraging girls to be confident in themselves and their abilities and to support and lead one another. Years later this sentiment still rings true, and 10-year-old Junior Girl Scout Mara is just one of thousands of girls who has benefitted from the welcoming environment of Girl Scouts.
Mara joined Girl Scouts in 2019 as a Brownie at the suggestion of her third grade autistic support teacher. Mara has high-functioning autism, which her mother Becca Thiec described as facing certain challenges with communication but being able to function with minimal assistance in a general education classroom. When Mara joined Girl Scout Troop 20484 in York County, she was welcomed by her troop mates who encouraged her and helped her overcome those challenges.
“We were doing fun patch work for the 110th celebration. One of the activities was doing puzzles which can be a difficult thing for her,” Thiec said. “The girls encouraged her and got her involved with the activity.”
The girls in Mara’s troop have become genuine friends. Mara said seeing her friends every other week is her favorite part about being in Girl Scouts, and after listing off a stream of names when asked who her friends are, Thiec confirmed Mara had just named every girl in her troop.
“Rose and Jazz in particular will literally say, ‘Hey Mara, what’s up?’ ‘Mara come on!’ They made sure she was along with them for whatever we were doing as a troop that the other girls then saw how to get Mara more involved and help boost her confidence,” Thiec said.
Along with many friendships, Mara has also gained confidence, independence and communication skills since joining her troop. Thiec credits the Girl Scouts.
“She has opened up more socially than before, which is related to autism. We did a skating party at the beginning of February and she saw a couple that fell. I think between maturity level and the Girl Scouts, she actually went out and said, ‘Are you OK?’ She wouldn’t have done that before,” Thiec said.
Thiec is a big supporter of her daughter’s Girl Scout experience. She usually stays at the troop meetings to provide one-on-one assistance for Mara if needed, but Mara has become increasingly more independent.
“There’s times she’s pushing me away – that’s a good thing if she’s pushing me away. She doesn’t want mommy’s help for certain tasks that’s being asked of her in troop meetings or troop functions,” Thiec said.
Through Girl Scouts, Mara has been able to participate in a multitude of activities she wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. From completing a Take Action Project with her troop where they collected donations for a homeless shelter, to visiting Foxfire House at Camp Furnace Hills in Lancaster County, to going indoor camping, Girl Scouts has provided Mara the opportunity to challenge herself. She even went horseback riding.
“She was definitely afraid,” Thiec said of her daughter’s first introduction to equestrianism. “[But] she actually got on a horse and did horseback riding. If there wasn’t somebody there that she already knew, she wouldn’t have done it.”
Thiec is looking forward to seeing Mara continue to apply the life skills she’s learning in Girl Scouts in her everyday life.
“[I’m] just hoping that with what she has gained social-skill wise, [she] keeps pushing forward, that she doesn’t regress which I don’t think she will,” Thiec said. “Overall I can see social interaction growth, and overall growth. She’s doing so well.”
While Mara’s Girl Scout experience may differ from others because of her autism, Thiec believes the inclusiveness of Girl Scouts reaches all girls.
“It doesn’t matter if a girl has a disability or not,” Thiec said. “As long as you can find the troop that is open-armed, like mine is, they’ll accept her no matter what.”