A Different Kind of Mentoring
For me, autism mentoring means supporting someone from the shared perspective of having been in their shoes. It means being able to relate to the challenges we face when we are considered 'a little different'. Mentoring is establishing a personal connection without the implementation of 'therapy' or 'counseling'.
Instead of mentoring in the closed environment of a home or office (as often happens in traditional therapy or counseling), I design the autism mentoring environment to be natural, open, and full of real-world experiences. I believe the environment is just as important as the activity for engagement and connection.
If someone wants to talk about their favorite video game, instead of telling them, "No, that's not what I am here for," I might say, "I would love to hear about it, let's talk at the café down the street." By choosing the café as the environment, I've introduced a challenging social context around a familiar topic.
Using Shared Interests to Open Doors
My objective is to open doors. I can't force someone to do something they don't want to do, but I can give them the opportunity to try something new. They get to decide if they want to step through the door into a new experience. As a guide, my approach is that if I open enough doors, they will eventually step through one.
Opening a door is providing an opportunity to get out of their comfort zone in a safe and supported manner. An example would be telling a client, "I have friends coming over for dinner," and inviting them to join us. I put the client in control by giving them the choice to accept or decline with no pressure or consequences.
If the client chooses to come to dinner, then I'm guiding them through a new social experience and balancing it to match their needs. If they decline, I continue to offer invitations in the future. In that case, I might make modifications to the invitation such as, "I have a friend coming for dinner," so we can ease them out of their comfort zone gradually.
My objective is to open doors. I can't force someone to do something they don't want to do, but I can give them the opportunity to try something new.
I support clients in expanding their comfort zone and experiencing new things while increasing their social interaction in the community. We might go to gaming events, attend live music performances, or enjoy a meal. I create opportunities for face-to-face social interactions. These activities help foster social development and independent living skills.
I offer one-on-one autism mentoring for adolescents and young adults on the Autism Spectrum. I help people find their place in the real adult world and achieve their maximum level of independence.