Effective mentoring draws on shared experience. I know what it’s like to be considered “a little different.” And since I’ve been there and overcome the challenges young people on the spectrum face, I can give them the informed and sympathetic advice they need to clear life’s most intimidating hurdles.
Unlike therapy or counselling, mentoring relies on making a personal connection. Whereas those traditional approaches are bound by home or office environments, I take young people out into the community, where they can learn from real world experience. For I believe where a young person learns life skills is just as important as what that person's learning.
For instance, let’s say a teen wants to talk about a favorite video game instead of trying new things. A therapist, when faced with that curve ball, would likely tell the young person “no, that’s not what we’re here for today.” This harsh reply turns the session into a battle of wills. Instead, I take what the therapist would consider a bothersome distraction and turn it into a powerful motivator by replying: “I’d love to hear about your favorite game. Let’s talk about it at that cool café down the street!” By introducing a normally intimidating new environment in the context of a familiar topic the young person's already excited about, barriers are broken and comfort zones expand.
My philosophy is to open doors. I can’t force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. But I can give each person I mentor the opportunity to try new things and let them decide for themselves if they would like to step through and try a new experience. If I open enough doors, eventually everyone steps through.
To open a door is to provide an opportunity to grow with the support of a trusted friend. With relaxed and friendly guidance, new experiences feel much safer to try. For instance, I might tell a client “I have some friends coming over for dinner. Would you like to join us?” When making such an invitation, I always make sure to let the client know he or she is in complete control of whether or not what I’m offering sounds like a fun thing to try—without pressure or consequences for refusal. If my client decides dinner sounds appealing and decides to tag along, it’s a great opportunity to guide them through the nervous excitement of a new social experience, while carefully balancing the challenges of that experience to match their ability and needs. If my client declines the invitation to dinner, I drop the subject that day, but continue to offer invitations down the line and, if necessary, modify that invitation to say “I have a friend coming for dinner” (rather than multiple friends), so it sounds a little safer to step out of the comfort zone at a more gradual pace.
I mentor adolescents and young adults on the autism spectrum on a one-on-one basis, so each young person gets the individualized attention he or she needs. I introduce them to a wide range of fun, life-expanding outings (gaming events, live music performances, and eating out in interesting places—just to name a few) which painlessly provide face-to-face social interactions, build social skills, and ultimately foster independence.
My goal is to help young people find a place in the adult world and achieve their maximum level of independence.