An Australian-first research project to evaluate and manualise a peer mentoring program for university students is now complete. The program, developed at Curtin University, is available to all Australian universities. Associate Professor Sonya Girdler, from Curtin University, led the evaluation of the peer mentoring program which aims to support young adults on the spectrum at university.
Transitioning from secondary school into the university environment is a daunting time for all young people but for young adults on the spectrum, university can be a particularly challenging experience. A disproportionate number of students on the autism spectrum are not achieving post-secondary qualifications, despite having the academic ability, autistic students are not reaching their potential at university.
There is very little literature on peer mentoring and the benefits of mentoring for university students with most programs focusing solely on training in social skills. Secondary school provides a high level of support and guidance which no longer exists in the university environment. Students are expected to develop their own timetables and manage their workload independently. Without support, it is a difficult environment for people on the spectrum to navigate. The Peer Mentoring Program offers individualised support from peers to help students on the spectrum set academic and personal goals.
The Program provides opportunities for students on the spectrum to make friends and to access the support they need as they work towards achieving these goals. By overcoming some of the environmental barriers, students on the spectrum can find a place where they can thrive and reach their potential which helps to develop increased independence and self-advocacy. The mentors are predominately students of Occupational Therapy and Psychology who wish to work with people on the spectrum following graduation. These students are gaining valuable clinical skills and professional training through the Program.
In consultation with the Autism Association of Western Australia, the team at Curtin University has now developed a work experience component of the Peer Mentoring Program. People on the autism spectrum have difficulty gaining and maintaining appropriate employment opportunities. We have developed partnerships, both within the University and externally, to offer work experience and paid employment opportunities to the students in the Mentor Program. We hope this helps to facilitate a successful transition out of university into meaningful careers.
A range of resources are available providing the tools needed to develop a peer mentoring program in other universities including manuals for mentees and mentors.