Breaking Barriers with MOSSAIC: Empowering Autism Inclusion on Campus through Mentorship and Support

Locke, J., Osuna, A., Myrvold, R. J., & Closson, J. S. (2023). Supporting autistic college students: Examining the mentoring, organization and social support for autism inclusion on campus (MOSSAIC) program. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1-14.

Summarized by Ellen Parry Luff

About this Study

There has been an increase in the number of autistic individuals attending college in recent years. However, despite this positive uptick, autistic college students face many challenges navigating higher education due to the lack of autism-specific services and resources. Mentorships are a promising approach to improving their overall college experience. The current study investigated the experiences of autistic mentees and their non-autistic mentors in the Mentoring Organizations and Social Support to Autism Inclusion on Campus (MOSSAIC) program.* Researchers reported on mentee, mentor, and overlapping themes that emerged from semi-structured interviews. 

Key Findings

Mentee Themes
  • Reasons for joining
    • Many participants decided to participate because their needs weren’t being met
    • Some participants wanted to recreate an autism support group they engaged in the past. 
  • Takeaways from Program
    • Mentees noticed their social awareness, self-advocacy skills, and time management improved.
Mentor Themes
  • General Mentor Experience
    • Mentors learned more about autism and how to support autistic people and other disabled individuals.
  • Program Training
    • They discussed how their training educated them about autism and the boundaries between friendship and mentoring.
  • Structure of Mentor and Mentee Meetings
    • Although mentors initiated most weekly meetings, they strove to make them goal-driven and highly valued the input and opinions of their mentees. 
  • Challenges
    • Mentors were often unsure of how to help their mentees with their mental health challenges.
    • Mentees felt embarrassed to be seen in public with them. 
    • There are limitations to this program since it was temporary. 
Mentee and Mentor Overlapping Themes
  • Goals
    • Both of them focused on goals, particularly ones oriented around academic & professional skills, time management, and social issues.
  • Relationships
    • Most of the mentors and mentees felt increasingly comfortable as time passed, but a few felt the opposite (some mentees felt like the their background differences became more apparent over time). 
  • Program Feedback
    • Mentors felt that meeting with autistic advocates was helpful and emphasized the need for more training & support. 
    • Mentees stressed the importance of having autistic mentors to reduce the burden of educating their mentors. They also suggested more tools & resources for programs to utilize.  

Implications for Mentoring

In conclusion, mentoring programs aimed at supporting autistic college students can significantly benefit from an individualized approach, flexible goal setting, and emphasis on executive functioning skills. The inclusion of autistic advocate mentors and continuous mentor training and support are crucial to fostering effective mentor-mentee relationships. Additionally, feedback-driven program development ensures ongoing improvement and relevance. By implementing these insights, mentoring initiatives can create a nurturing and understanding environment, empowering autistic students to thrive academically and socially during their college experience.

* = a peer-mentorship college transition program for autistic students

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