New study assesses the social validity of a mentoring intervention for adolescents and adults with ASD

Weiler, L. M., Goerdt, A. K., Kremer, K. B., Goldberg, E., & Hudock, R. L. (2022). Social validity and preliminary outcomes of a mentoring intervention for adolescents and adults with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) face a myriad of challenges associated with ASD that can affect their development, such as anxiety, low social connections, and depression.
  • While perceived similarities are not essential for mentorships, they can still contribute to trust and relationship building.
  • This study assesses the social validity of a mentoring intervention between adolescents with ASD and adults with ASD in an after-school program.
  • One-on-one mentoring between adolescents with ASD and adults with ASD is a promising intervention that can foster a variety of positive youth outcomes, such as self-concept, well-being, and socio-emotional & behavioral outcomes.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are vulnerable to declines in social connections and an increase in depression, anxiety, and other co-occurring conditions. This study introduces a novel intervention that matches adolescents and adults with ASD in one-to-one mentoring relationships in an afterschool setting and examines its social validity. In this single-group, mixed-method pilot study, participants included seven adolescent mentees (14–18 years old; 100% male), seven adult mentors (19–33 years old; 71% male), and eight parents of mentees. A combination of project-specific and standardized assessments was used to describe the participants’ perceptions of the program and to assess well-being, self-concept, and social-emotional and behavioral outcomes. Results showed high uptake, program satisfaction, positive ratings of mentoring relationship quality, and desirable pre- to post-test change on several targeted outcomes. This study provides preliminary evidence to support the applicability and utility of a mentoring program for adolescents with ASD by adults with ASD

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Results of the current study show that one-to-one mentoring by adults with ASD in an afterschool setting is a promising intervention strategy for youth with ASD. This study is the first to examine mentoring of youth with ASD by adults with ASD. In this program, adults with ASD were invited to serve as role models and leaders in their community, share their unique insights and experiences, and empower youth with ASD to be successful and thrive. Limited previous literature showed that mentoring young people with ASD is a positive, prosocial service (Curtin et al., 2016; Lucas & James, 2018; Ncube et al., 2019), but no known studies utilized adult mentors with ASD. Pairing youth and adults with ASD in a relational intervention simultaneously posed opportunity and potential challenge. Somewhat surprisingly, few challenges were noted by program participants or parents. In fact, mentees and mentors were largely satisfied with their mentoring relationships, felt their participation in the program was meaningful, and reported learning valuable skills and information during their mentoring sessions.

With some exceptions, initial outcome measures indicated that AMP provided mutual benefit to mentees and mentors participating in the program. Program participants experienced improvements in quality of life, social skills, behavioral regulation, and mental health. The strongest impacts were seen regarding improved interpersonal relationships, reduced problem behaviors, and improved internalizing symptoms for both mentors and mentees, with significant improvements in mental health seen for mentors. Small to moderate improvements in self-satisfaction and life enjoyment were reported for mentors and mentees. Mentees reported significant improvements in self-concept, which were not seen for mentors. Although mentees reported improvements in social skills, mentors reported a small decrease in social competence on the SSIS. Results suggest mentees may experience more benefits from the program compared to mentors; however, additional evaluation is needed to further explore differences in mentor and mentee outcomes and potential factors affecting social and emotional outcomes across a longer intervention period. Inconsistent or minimal changes were seen in regard to quality of life and autistic identity. Notably, mentees and parents of mentees tended to report different levels of change, with mentees generally reporting stronger outcomes than their parents. Parents also reported a small increase in externalizing behaviors on the ASEBA while reporting a decrease in problem behaviors on the SSIS. Additional evaluation with a larger sample is needed to examine whether these differences may be related to limited parental involvement in the intervention itself or other factors related to self-report questionnaires with this population.

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