Amy Hart fondly recalls the nine years she spent as a Girl Scout growing up. But when her daughter, Sophie, was in kindergarten last year, Amy accepted that she wouldn't be able to pass those same experiences on to her daughter.
"Sophie is on the autism spectrum and I thought it would be too difficult for her to keep up with the other girls," Amy said.
But that all changed when Beth Ansell, leader for Troop 36817 of Bethel Park, asked if Sophie would like to join Girl Scouts. Amy decided to give it a try, and what she discovered surprised her.
"These girls are patient with Sophie and teach her by doing," said Amy. "If Sophie cries, they try to comfort her and make her happy. They are her friends in and outside of Daisies."
Sophie has experienced many "firsts" through Girl Scouts, and there are many more to come, said Amy. The six girls in the troop, all in first grade at Ben Franklin Elementary, have toured a veterinary clinic and the Bethel Park Fire Department, stuffed stockings for soldiers, collected yarn for homeless cats and made Valentines for veterans. They went to Disney on Ice, painted "Mommy and Me" hand print pictures, and sold cookies.
And with every activity, the girls and volunteers in her troop always keep Sophie in mind. Beth even made a sensory sandbox to help calm her, if needed.
"Sophie's biggest struggle is communication. If she is frustrated, hungry, thirsty or tired, she is unable to say so," explained Amy. "The girls have seen her have a meltdown and were not judgemental. They are unbelievably compassionate!"
The doubt Amy once had that Sophie could keep up in Girl Scouts has been replaced with a certainty that Girl Scouts has given Sophie a place to thrive.