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Last Updated: 03/18/2018


 Article of Interest - Autism

KS Differences bring girls together
Autistic girl and others learn life skills in special troop
by David Clouston, The Salina Journal, September 27, 2002
For more articles on disabilities and special ed visit

At the end of an album of snapshots, one photo shows a confident-looking girl wearing her Girl Scout sash and having fun hiking on a sunny day.

Participating in Scouting is one of her daughter Margaret's favorite things to do, Grace Leu-Burke knows. So are dancing, Halloween, swimming, going to the zoo and playing with Barbie dolls.

It's the photographs in the front of the book that Leu-Burke says show how far Margaret has advanced since she was diagnosed with autism at age 3.

Those pictures are of Margaret as a 2-year-old. She could not talk and did not know how to play.

Supported financially by the Salina Area United Way, the Girl Scouts of Central Kansas has helped Margaret, now a fourth-grader, grow socially and intellectually, her mother said.

Opening a door

For the past four years, Girl Scout Troop 979 has provided opportunities for girls with special needs. Leu-Burke started the troop to assist her daughter, and she opened the door for other girls with special needs to participate in Girl Scouts.

"What's nice about Girl Scouts is that each (merit) badge -- they have requirements, but they're pretty flexible, and so they tailor it to what the girls can do," Leu-Burke said.

Autism is a developmental disability that affects the central nervous system. Children with autism have problems communicating and interacting socially in groups. About 15 of every 10,000 births result in autism. Four out of every five individuals with autism are males.

Leu-Burke had been a treasurer with her son's Boy Scout troop and helped with scouting activities, but Girl Scouts was new to her.

"I remember having this idea and thinking, 'OK, I'm going to have to show what I'm going to do and have an outline and everything,' " Leu-Burke said. "And I called (Girl Scouts) and I said, 'I have this idea. My daughter has autism, and I don't think she'll fit into the regular (program), can I have my own little Girl Scout troop?' And they're, like -- 'Sure, we can do that.' They go, 'Yeah, come down to the office and we'll talk.' "

Karin Bigler, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of Central Kansas, 1550 S. Broadway, said Leu-Burke's dedication has been noteworthy.

"We really respect the work she's done. I know that Dr. (Edgar) Rosales (a Salina pediatrician) has helped her and even referred girls to be in her troop. She's organized and really caring," Bigler said.

There are seven girls in the troop. They meet twice a month. They go on field trips to places such as Salina Regional Health Center to learn about employment, and to grocery stores to learn about shopping for food.

At meetings they work on their parliamentary skills. They also learn life skills by earning merit badges in Safety, Manners, Good Food, My Body, Cooking, Nature and Science.

They learn about the world around them by earning badges in Citizens Near and Far and People of the World. Once a month, to promote physical activity and experience the outdoors, the girls go hiking and do things such as picking up trash along the trails at Lakewood Park.

"Some of the girls come from different challenged backgrounds. Some have siblings who are disabled," Leu-Burke said.

Interacting in a small group helps the girls learn confidence and skills necessary toward gaining maturity. Bigler said it also helps those without disabilities learn they can interact and be friendly with other girls who might not walk as easily or speak as easily as someone else.

"We want to make scouting available to every girl who wants to be involved," Bigler said. "Regardless of their cultural, socio-economic status, we really want to serve girls."

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