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Volunteering at Scouts is changing to help us reach more young people

Volunteering is changing to help us reach more young people

Volunteering is changing at Scouts. Read more

Discover what this means

What would you do?

First suggested by National Autistic Society
Explore our personal reactions and judgements towards situations and how more understanding, care and respect can go a long way.

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You’ll need

  • Pens or pencils
  • Scrap paper

Before you begin

  • Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Additional help to carry out your risk assessment, including examples can be found here. Don’t forget to make sure all young people and adults involved in the activity know how to take part safely.
  • Make sure you’ll have enough adult helpers. You may need some parents and carers to help if you’re short on helpers.

Please note: This activity can be done by everyone. It’s about learning to see that people interpret the world in different ways and we can understand other people’s perspectives, reactions, points of view to be respectful and accommodating to them. Though this activity’s partnered with the National Autistic Society, the theme's Understanding Disability. Therefore, this activity is about learning about sensory differences, which aren't always necessarily linked to having autism.

Setting up the activity

  • Mark out opposite sides of the room with signs that read ‘misbehaving’ and ‘not misbehaving’.
  • Consider any young people who may find this session more challenging and talk to parents/carers to explore what support you could provide.

Run the activity

  1. Explain to everyone that you’re going to think about how we judge people without knowing any context for their behaviour or actions. There aren’t any wrong or right answers today. We should all listen, respect and care for everyone in the group.
  2. A volunteer or young leader to read out one of the situations which describes what could be seen as challenging behaviour:
    • Situation 1: A young girl is at a shopping centre. She's crying and screaming. She lays down on the floor and refuses to move.
    • Situation 2: A boy in your class at school won’t leave the classroom. He has his hands over his ears, as he rocks back and forth, yelling.
  1. Everyone stands on one side of the room if they feel this behaviour is the person ‘misbehaving’, or on the other side of the room if they feel like it’s not.
  2. Ask a couple of young people why they’ve chosen where they're standing.
  3. The volunteer or young leader should read out the first context point, which are listed below, and ask if anyone wishes to change their position.
  4. If anyone changes their position ask if they’d like to explain why.
  5. Continue reading out each context point. Make sure all the context points are read out.

Context points

Situation 1: Young girl at the shopping centre

  • This person feels nervous around other people.
  • This is a new environment for them. They haven’t been here before. Their brain's working really hard trying to understand all the information around them, such as the sign in the corner, the bright colours, there’s a weird smell and a lot of people are talking.
  • This person feels judged and excluded from everyone around them. Onlookers are calling them weird and no one’s helping or being understanding.
  • This person may be autistic. Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. Autism can be a hidden disability, and a hidden disability means it doesn't always have physical signs, so we can't always tell if someone has one. 

Situation 2: Boy in the classroom

  • Other people haven’t noticed but one of the lights in the room is flashing. For this person it’s distracting and they can’t help seeing it over and over. To them it's going Flash – flash – flash – flash.
  • This person has really sensitive hearing, which means they hear noises so loudly that it hurts their ears. There were too many people speaking at once and all this noise made them really scared.
  • This person may be autistic. Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. Autism can be a hidden disability, and a hidden disability means it doesn't always have physical signs, so we can't always tell if someone has one. 

Learning about sensory differences and how we can help

  1. When everyone's finished doing the activity, gather everyone in a circle.
  2. Explain that without knowing about the context points, a lot of people may have said the person in that activity was misbehaving. However, when you heard the context points you changed your mind and could see the reasons the person was overwhelmed.
  3. Tell everyone that sometimes people have sensory differences, meaning of their senses may be over- or under-sensitive, or both, at different times, which may make them become overwhelmed. A person who finds it difficult to process everyday sensory information can experience sensory overload, or information overload. Sensory differences might not always be obvious, so we might not be able to see or know that a person has them.
  4. Explain that too much information can cause stress, anxiety, and possibly physical pain. This can result in withdrawal, distressed behaviour or meltdowns. It happens when someone becomes completely overwhelmed by their current situation and temporarily loses control of their behaviour. It can sometimes be known as a meltdown.
  5. Tell everyone that a meltdown's an intense response to an overwhelming situation. This loss of control can be expressed verbally, such as shouting, screaming or crying, or physically, such as kicking, lashing out or biting, or in both ways. A meltdown's not the same as a temper tantrum. It's not bad or naughty behaviour. When a person's completely overwhelmed, and their condition means it's difficult to express that in another way, it's understandable that the result is a meltdown.
  6. Explain that some autistic people may have meltdowns. Without knowing about the person or the reasons, the public or bystanders often finds it hard to tell autism meltdowns and temper tantrums apart, but they're very different things. Meltdowns aren't the only way an autistic person may express feeling overwhelmed. They may also refuse to interact, withdraw from situations they find challenging or avoiding them altogether. 
  7. Tell everyone that if someone's having a meltdown, or not responding to you, don’t judge them. It can make a world of difference to an autistic person and their parents or carers. 
  8. Ask everyone to think of a few ideas of how we can help or what to do if someone's having a meltdown. Some suggestions might be giving them some time - it can take a while to recover from information or sensory overload. You could make space and try to create a quiet, safe space as best you can, or politely ask people to move along and not to stare. You could also turn off loud music and turn down bright lights – whatever you can think of to reduce the information overload, you can try it.
Logo containing the words Scouts for SDGs. The O in Scouts is made up of 17 coloured segments, representing the 17 goals.

This activity helps contribute towards some of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Find out more about the SDGs, and how Scouts across the world are getting involved.

Logo with the number 3 and the words good health and wellbeing, with a zig zag line and a heart underneath.


Congratulate everyone for completing a challenging activity that explores how we react and judge people’s behaviour, and how considering the context of something can help us to better care, respect and support people.

Reflect on hidden disabilities and ask everyone to consider what they can do to prevent the initial situation from happening, now that they know about the context bullet points. How could we develop skills to better understand and support people in similar situations?

Make sure young people are aware that not all challenging behaviour is autism. There are many other potential reasons for what could be seen as challenging behaviour.


All activities must be safely managed. You must complete a thorough risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Always get approval for the activity, and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.

Make sure that any young people with autism or another disability in the group are supported, as this activity could be a potential trigger or cause them to feel uncomfortable.

All Scout activities should be inclusive and accessible.

Learn more about autism on the National Autistic Society’s website.