Graduating from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts is an accomplishment for any young man.
But for Tyler Leak, his troop and his family, it will be a double-win when he makes the transition next month.
“When he first started,” his mother Christine Leak said, “he would just cling to my leg, so it’s amazing that he will now get up in front of people.”
“He wouldn’t show his face,” said Scout Leader Doug Trimmer, who has been with Tyler since the beginning at Pack 926, operating out of Grace United Methodist Church. “We would always hand out badges at Pack meetings every month, and the boys would come up to the front of the room and we’d give them to them and shake their hand.
“But when we’d call Tyler’s name, he’d get tears in his eyes and I would take his award out to him and maybe get a high-five.”
Tyler has autism, his mother said. The symptoms started showing up early in that he didn’t start talking until he was more than 3 years old.
“When he was 18 months, we took him to a speech pathologist,” she said. “By the time he was 2, we knew there was something wrong.”
The therapists came up with alternative ways for him to communicate: Sign language and refrigerator magnets, for instance.
But in some situations, especially noisy places, he would be paralyzed with fear.
So Christine and her husband, Terry, thought that taking him to Cub Scouts might be a way to bring him out of his shell and open up to people.
“We had tried soccer, but he just wouldn’t stand up in front of people — even for practice,” Christine said.
She said that knowing the Cub Scout motto, “Do your best,” could be a mantra for him to develop.
“That’s what he’s done throughout to get his badges and belt loops and pens,” she said.
Trimmer said that he just tried to make sure that Tyler was engaged in whatever project was going on, but it took two years before they had a significant breakthrough.
“He was always reluctant to be in the limelight — and he still is,” Trimmer said.
The breakthrough came during their Bear year when the project was to show their collections. Tyler collected die-cast NASCAR cars.
“We went around the room, and when it was Tyler’s turn, he just opened up,” Trimmer said. “He just started rattling off about who the drivers of the cars were and what races they won.
“The other boys, you could see their jaws hitting the floor. And when he was all done talking, Tyler put his hands on his hips and said, ‘Do you want to play with them?’ ”
After that, he started coming up to the front of the room to get his badges, he would start participating in flag ceremonies and even went to summer camp and amazed everyone with his BB gun shooting skills.
“He’s found some good bonds with all of the boys,” his mother said. “They don’t pick on him at all, and when they see someone picking on him, they stand up for him, so it’s been good for them, too.”
There are still some things he doesn’t like to do, such as going to the Cincinnati Reds games, because of his sensitivity to noise.
And although he technically “aged out” of Cub Scouts, the Pack allowed him to stay in another year because of the bonds he created with the other boys.
When he graduates from Cub Scouts next month, he and the other boys in his troop — Evan Schroer, Caiden Blair, Anthony Getz, AJ Hoskins, Stevie Houston, Xander Roberts, Tristen Bardo and Matthew McMillion — will all receive the Arrow of Light Award, the highest honor for Cub Scouts graduating to Boy Scouts.
“Even though Scouting has been good for Tyler,” Trimmer said, “having Tyler has been good for us. The other boys treat him well and they really do love him, I think, in their 10-year-old boy kind of way.”
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