Evaluating a University Mentoring Program: Outcomes for Students with ASD and Other Disabilities.

Thursday, May 11, 2017: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
E. Byrne1, A. Hillier1, J. Goldstein1, L. Tornatore1, A. Diaz1, H. Johnson1, S. Ratliff1, K. Silva1 and S. M. Donnelly2, (1)University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, MA, (2)University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lawrence, MA
Background:  Increasing numbers of students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are entering higher education. Their success can be jeopardized by organizational, social/emotional, and academic challenges if appropriate supports are not in place. Mentoring as an intervention strategy has received increasing attention in the literature. While the majority of previous work has focused on at-risk youth populations, students with ASD and other disabilities may be particularly responsive to a mentoring model.

Objectives:  The present study examined the outcomes of a mentoring program for students with ASD and other disabilities. We were interested in how and to what extent having a mentor impacted the participants. For a subset we also compared academic outcomes (retention, credits earned, GPA) with a matched comparison group who did not receive mentoring.

Methods:  Participants were 46 first year students registered with Student Disability Services (SDS), 36 were male and 10 were female with an average age of 21 years. All participants provided documentation of a disability prior to their eligibility for SDS services and the majority had an ASD diagnosis. Mentors were upperclassmen and were matched with mentees based on availability schedules and major. A subset of participants were matched with a comparison group registered with Disability Services who did not participate in the mentoring program.

Pairs met once a week for an hour for 14 weeks and followed a program curriculum focused on time management, stress management, accessing resources, study skills, dorm life, classroom etiquette, communicating with peers and professors, and working in groups.

Mentees completed a “Program Questionnaire” pre and post intervention designed to measure the effectiveness of the program curriculum. Questions focused on how prepared for university the mentees felt, whether they understood how things work at university, how confident they felt, etc. The post-measure also asked participants to rate how much they attributed any changes specifically to having a mentor.

Results: Significant changes were seen in feeling less worried about being successful, understanding academic expectations, knowing how things work at the university, knowing how to access supports, and where to find opportunities to meet others. Mentors had the most impact in knowing how things work at the university, knowing how and where to find opportunities to meet others, and managing time and organization.

There were no significant differences between a subset of those in the mentoring program and a matched comparison group for number of credits earned or GPA. Four students in the mentoring program had dropped out compared to two in the comparison group.

Conclusions:  Mentoring programs can be an effective support mechanism for university students with ASD. However, mentoring might be limited in its impact. Whereas meeting regularly with a peer mentor may enhance students’ ability to manage workload and access resources, it less likely to effect retention, or significantly affect academic performance.