“You got an instant conversation:” E-Mentoring for Youth with Communication Disabilities

Grace, E., Shipman, J., Raghavendra, P., & McMillan, J. M. (2023). “You got an instant conversation”: Goal progress and perceptions following an e-mentoring social media intervention for young people who use augmentative and alternative communication. Journal of Communication Disorders, 103, 106328. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcomdis.2023.106328

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

About the Study

People with communication disabilities often face barriers when interacting with others. Because of difficulties that may arise while conversing with others, they are at higher risk of social isolation and having limited access to social networks. E-mentoring can potentially support and enhance the communication skills of young people who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)*. This study evaluates how a cross-age peer e-mentoring intervention affected the goal attainment of online conversations among youth who use AAC. It also assessed the overall perceptions of the intervention. Having a better understanding of this will not only provide insights on better-supporting youth with communication disabilities but also promote the importance of having a more inclusive and connected society. 

* = AAC are communication modes, tools, and techniques people with communication disabilities use to interact with others. 

Key Findings:

  • Many mentees, their parents, and their mentors had positive perceptions about the intervention, saying that youth social media use exceeded targeted goals. 
  • Mentees’ self-rated satisfaction and performance improved after participating in the program. However, goal attainment varied when it came to examining specific, individual goals (for instance, the ability to rest aside time to go on social media daily affects how much progress youths who use AAC can make in achieving their goals).  
  • Although the e-mentoring intervention’s goals were important, mentees, mentors, and families also discussed other positive outcomes unrelated to goal attainment.
    • For instance, mentors and parents discussed how the intervention promoted relationship and rapport-building for their children. 
  • Participants discussed some barriers that affected their ability to engage in online conversations and the intervention. 
    • Technological Barriers: Physical access, technical barriers, and complexity
    • Person-Based Support Barriers: Confidence/availability of a supported person and time
    • Foundation Skills Barriers: Lack of pre-requisite skills
  • While the intervention established its goals before implementation, it managed to maintain some structure while having flexibility for mentoring relationships to develop. 
    • Intrinsic facilitators (cycle of momentum building and internal motivation and the prosocial benefits of engaging online) and practical external facilitators (presence of support person, ease of access to online platforms, and timetabling in social media activities) contributed to the achievement of goals and online engagement in the intervention.

Implications for Mentoring

This study demonstrates that cross-age peer e-mentorships are viable approaches for youth who use ACC to pursue their conversational goals. Participants felt their communication and social media skills improved, while mentors and parents noticed improvements in mentees’ self-motivations. These findings have various implications for clinicians who work with youth with AAC. They provide insights into the barriers and facilitators of social media use. Additionally, the variations in reported study outcomes highlight the importance of utilizing developmental, relationship-based approaches. While goal attainment is an important component of health interventions, this study demonstrates that other impacts (e.g., well-being and improvements in facilitators and mediators) are also noteworthy outcomes to account for when evaluating overall intervention effectiveness.

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