The effectiveness of online peer mentorship programs for children and adolescents with neurodevelopmental disabilities

Saxena, S., Mitchell, J., Ehsan, A., Majnemer, A., & Shikako‐Thomas, K. (2020). Online peer mentorship programmes for children and adolescents with neurodevelopmental disabilities: A systematic review. Child: Care, Health and Development, 46(1), 132–148.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin 

Notes of Interest:

  • Youth with neurodevelopmental disabilities may have differences in how they are able to participate in and handle various activities
    • Possible factors that can impede youth and adolescent involvement are low social support, limited resources, and uninformed parents
  • Online peer mentorship programs can potentially assist youths by offering socioemotional support, helping youth cope with health-related issues, and by providing information
  • This systematic review compiles current research on online peer mentorship programs for youths, adolescents, and their families in order to get a better sense of how effective these programs are
  • More research needs to be conducted in order to create standardized measures and parameters for online peer mentorship programs for youth and adolescents with disabilities to analyze program outcomes and protocols   

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)


Children and adolescents with neurodevelopmental disabilities may be less well integrated into their community than their peers. Online groups can be particularly accessible for individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities, as individuals may be able to connect with a larger network than they would in their local community. This systematic review aimed at estimating the effectiveness of online peer mentorship programmes on children and adolescent’s participation in life situations.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Findings revealed both similarities and differences in the key characteristics of online peer support interventions across all studies. No study in this review included children less than 10 years old, as most of the studies included children with a reading level of Grade 4 and above. Few studies catered to the specific challenges and needs of participants by involving a moderator who would work on an individual level with the participants. One study tailored the intervention to meet participants’ personal goals by providing intensive and repeated one‐to‐one support and observed significant improvement in participants’ performance and satisfaction (Raghavendra et al., 2013). Having a one‐to‐one support also allowed the recruitment of children with diverse disabilities.

In order to optimize engagement in interactive online programmes, a better understanding of participant‐led values/goals for these interventions is required (Biddiss, Chan‐Viquez, Cheung, & King, 2019). For example, there may be multiple and differently valued goals for online peer mentorship interventions (interaction‐focused, therapy/intervention‐focused, and technology‐focused). The latter might also be affected by the structure of the online interventions—individual attention, feedback, monitoring, and opportunities for social networking and interaction, and so on. These factors, if not integrated well in the development of intervention, might negatively impact affective, behavioural, and cognitive engagement in online programmes (Biddiss et al., 2019). However, the method by which key characteristics such as session duration, frequency, programme length, and programme format (moderator facilitated vs. free discussion) were chosen, or how these types of decisions were informed, was not discussed.


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