The late Whitney Houston says it best as she expresses that “everybody is searching for a hero; people need someone to look up to” in her hit song “Greatest Love.” Younger individuals with autism who are striving for success and looking to find their place in the world need people who can inspire and encourage them.
Mentoring a younger person is fulfilling, rewarding, and a great responsibility that must not be taken for granted. If you are a current mentor or planning to become a mentor to younger individuals with autism, these tips will help you form a successful mentoring relationship with your mentee.
Communicate and listen.
This is probably one of the most important aspects of being a successful mentor. Because nobody is a mind reader, it is crucial to communicate to your mentee, whether it’s setting expectations, asking them about their aspirations, giving your insight, etc. It is equally important to listen to your mentee and practice empathy. Do not dismiss their feelings; come from a nonjudgmental perspective, as it will allow the mentee to feel more comfortable around you. Communicating and listening is how mentors and mentees form an effective and rewarding bond.
Get to know your mentee(s).
Another important part of mentoring is getting to know your mentee on a personal level, as you would when making a new friend. What hobbies are they interested in? What music do they enjoy? What are their likes and dislikes? Many individuals with autism have hobbies that they absolutely enjoy but perhaps don’t have a lot of people to share their love of their hobbies with. Don’t forget to share about yourself with your mentee as well. This practice can also pass down your knowledge of social skills to help your mentee when it’s their time to network with others. A first step might be doing something fun like an icebreaker game, especially if you’re mentoring a group.
Lead by example.
You have probably heard the phrase “walk the talk.” While it is important to mentor others, it is also important to be someone that others would aspire to be. For example, you can’t tell your mentee to be kind to others if you are rude to or impatient with others. Why set expectations for your mentee if you can’t follow them yourself? Those with hypocritical behavioral patterns may not be taken seriously by their mentee or cause confusion.
Gain support from other mentors.
Mentoring can be a challenge; in some cases, it will wear you down emotionally and mentally. We all have strengths and weaknesses. When we talk with other mentors, we can help them strengthen their weaknesses as they help us strengthen ours. It helps us all. Reach out to fellow mentors to learn from them and their experiences and share your successes so they can use them in their mentoring relationships. Mentors all have the same goal — to make a positive impact in someone’s life — so supporting one another enables our impact to be even bigger than working alone.
One of the most rewarding aspects of mentoring others is that the mentor also learns from the mentee and the relationship. While it takes hard work and dedication, mentoring is a rewarding job that can boost a younger person’s self-esteem and help them develop stronger personable skills while also boosting our own self-esteem and helping us develop new skills.
Born in Michigan and now residing in Florida, Sterling Ramsey was diagnosed with autism at age 10. Ever since childhood, Sterling has helped mentor younger peers, whether it’s being a camp counselor or volunteering at her church daycare. Those experiences gave Sterling her calling to become a social worker. She is currently studying to become a social worker specializing in working with kids and teenagers. When she is not working or studying, her favorite pastimes include drawing, writing, cooking, and spending time with friends and family.