Can formal mentoring help autistic mentees?: New study counts the ways

Hudock, R. L., Kremer, K. B., Kaplan, N., Goldberg, E., Austin, J. D., Khan, L., & Weiler, L. M. (2024). Development and initial outcomes of a mentoring program designed to support autistic adolescents and adults. Advances in Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

Though autistic individuals frequently experience co-occurring mental health conditions, access to tailored mental health services remains limited due to factors like late diagnosis, lack of autism awareness, and a shortage of trained professionals (Lake et al., 2014).

Hudock and colleagues (2024) developed a strengths-based mentoring intervention that pairs autistic youth with autistic adult mentors, aiming to assess the acceptability, feasibility, and impact on social and emotional well-being for both mentors and mentees.

14 autistic adolescents, 14 autistic adult mentors, and 17 parents of mentees from a Midwest metropolitan community participated. Mentors received a one-time 2 hour training session. Mentees participated in 15 weekly, 60-min mentoring sessions that were ‘semi-structured’ and focused on shared interests.

Both quantitative measures and qualitative feedback were delivered to assess program outcomes. Data were analyzed using descriptive methods and Hedge’s g to calculate effect sizes.

Strong acceptability was evidenced by good retention, and high satisfaction with the program.
Mentees reported a small increase in pride in their autistic identity (g = 0.28) and self-esteem (g = 0.62), as well as small decreases in internalizing (g = -0.24) and externalizing problems (g = -0.16).

Parents observed increases in their child’s quality of life (g = 0.49) and life satisfaction (g = 0.60) but also noted slight increases in internalizing and externalizing symptoms.

Notably, mentors experienced improvements in their quality of life (g = 0.58), reported slight gains in social skills (g = 0.19), and showed small decreases in internalizing (g = -0.12) and externalizing symptoms (g = -0.06).

Qualitative outcomes mirrored these assessments, with mentees and parents reporting improved self-awareness, confidence, and communication skills, and mentors noticing enhanced leadership skills and a greater sense of community for themselves.

Initial outcomes suggest that the mentoring intervention was feasible, acceptable, and benefited both autistic youth and adults.

A strengths-based approach may foster pride in autistic identity and improve social-emotional well-being. Further research is needed to fully understand its impact on more severe mental health issues.

Implications for Mentors
• When mentoring autistic youth comprehensive training mentors on mentoring best practices, autism-specific education, and mental health resources may help ensure mentoring effectiveness.
• Ongoing support and supervision for mentors may be useful to addressing challenges that arise and providing guidance.