Friday, November 28, 2008

Special Needs Girl Scouts Troop Rejects Girl With Autism

Girl Scouts Reject Girl With Autism
Special-Needs Troop Claims 8-Year-Old Was a 'Danger' to Others

For two years, Magi Klages, despite having autism, thrived in the Girl Scouts -- an organization that pledges to "help people at all times" and to be "honest and fair, considerate and caring."

But when Magi's Brownie troop grew too large and her parents moved her to a smaller one for children with special needs, they never imagined their 8-year-old would be kicked out.

Michele and Kevin Klages of Oconomowoc, Wis., were told their daughter was a "danger" to the new group's four other children who are all physically disabled.

"We don't get it," said Michele Klages, who always accompanies Magi to Brownie meetings. "She's 30 pounds and we were there. We were told she was scaring the other girls."

When the troop sat down for a mat-weaving project, Magi threw a fit, Michele Klages said, biting herself and running out of the circle.

Having an 'Autistic Moment'

"She was having moments as most autistic children do," the 42-year-old mother told "We pulled her out of the circle and let her have her moment. At one point she got up and ran away and her father got her."

Michele Klages said they felt the Nov. 13 meeting had gone "fairly well" for an autistic child thrust into a new situation. But four days later she got the call that Magi would not be welcome in the new troop.

"To feel like someone doesn't want your child around, it rips your heart out," said Michele Klages, who is also raising a 10-year-old son and holds a part-time office job. "I never expected my child to be discriminated against. Never in a million years."

She said they had been up-front with the group leader about Magi, who is mostly nonverbal and relies on sign language to communicate. They were especially upset to learn the leader has a child with special needs.

"It's terrible," said Michelle Tompkins, a spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, who said she had received a "courtesy call" from the local council about the incident. "We are very inclusive and have a national policy against all forms of discrimination."

Anita Rodrigues, spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast, did not return several phone calls from But Michele Klages says the council contacted her about the possibility of finding another troop for Magi to join.

Even the Autism Society of America admits that the Girl Scouts do "wonderful work" with children with disabilities and has often contributed volunteers to help children with this neurological disorder.

It says that children with autism are rarely dangerous to others and that the incident illustrates the need for more support and training in organizations like the Girl Scouts.

"These children are so misunderstood," said Michele Klages. "We need to educate ourselves that these kids can be loving and fun. They should be given a chance like any other child."


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