Assessing mentoring interventions for youth with ASD by adults with ASD

Gunty, K. Y., Weiler, L., Keyzers, A., & Hudock, R. (2022). Assessing need and acceptability of a youth mentoring intervention for adolescents with autism by adults with autism. 2(2).

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Although families of youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) demonstrate high levels of family coping, they still experience high levels of stress and uncertainty throughout adolescence.
  • This is especially concerning given that resources for youth with ASD dwindle as they become adolescents.
  • This qualitative study explores how well-received a proposed mentoring intervention for adolescents with ASD was by the target demographic.
  • Participants agreed that mentoring with adult mentors with ASD is needed, saying that it can help youth with ASD a) have empathetic mentors, b) feel more included, c) improve their mental health/well-being, and d) boost their & their parents’ expectations for their future.
  • Despite the overall support for having a mentoring intervention for youth with ASD, some of them were worried that…
    • Having a mentoring dyad where both individuals have the same issues might make the relationship difficult to maintain.
    • Adults with ASD aren’t ready to become mentors or would only feel comfortable becoming a mentor under certain circumstances.
  • Future mentoring research needs to explore the feasibility of this proposed intervention.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Background: Adult mentors can positively influence development, yet youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have too little access to adult mentors who can provide role modeling, guidance, and support. Furthermore, neurotypical adult mentors (i.e., adult mentors without ASD) may not understand the day-to-day realities that youth with ASD face and the social world they navigate. Therefore, it is possible that adults with ASD may be particularly well-suited as mentors for youth with ASD.

Method: Six semi-structured focus groups of four to seven people each explored the need for a mentoring program to bridge the gap between the supports youth with ASD need and what they currently receive. These focus groups included key stakeholders: youth with ASD, adults with ASD, and parents of youth and adults with ASD.

Results: Focus groups with key stakeholders demonstrate a significant need for the development of a one-to-one youth mentoring program delivered by adults with ASD.

Conclusion: There are significant gaps between the supports (particularly social supports) that adolescents with ASD need and those that are available to them. All of the focus groups concluded that a mentoring program in which adults with ASD are mentors for youth with ASD seems to be an acceptable and much-needed support for adolescents with ASD. Such a program is not currently known to exist.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

An intervention in which adolescents with ASD are matched with adults with ASD in supportive mentoring relationships could meet a current unmet need in formal support services for young people with ASD. Adolescents with ASD, parents of adolescents and young adults with ASD, and adults with ASD agreed that adolescence is a particularly challenging developmental stage when many youth experience social and emotional difficulties. A mentoring program could intervene to ameliorate some of these negative feelings and experiences. When presented with a program model that included adults with ASD as mentors, participants thought it would lessen youth’s feelings of being different and increase the empathy felt by the mentor. Participants discussed the many benefits that come when people with ASD can be together and learn from one another.

It was also noted that this type of mentoring program could increase individual and parental expectations for the youth’s future. The mentors would become models for what is possible in the youth’s lives over time. Individual and family expectations strongly influence outcomes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (including ASD, e.g., Carter et al., 2012), so the potential influence on expectations may be integral to the success of this type of mentoring program. Despite overwhelming support for a mentoring program for adolescents with ASD in which adults with ASD provide mentorship, there were some potential concerns (e.g., mentors and mentees sharing similar struggles rendering the relationship too difficult).

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