The ASD Mentoring Program at York University, Canada: Identifying Mental Health Needs and the Benefits of Social Support

Oral Presentation
Friday, May 3, 2019: 1:42 PM
Room: 518 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
J. M. Bebko1, C. A. McMorris2, M. Ames3, B. L. Ncube4 and K. T. Shaikh1, (1)York University, Toronto, ON, Canada, (2)Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada, (3)University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada, (4)Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada

Young adults with ASD are at risk for academic and personal failure throughout their post-secondary education, due to co-occurring mental health issues, along with the difficulties in social relationships and communication characteristic of ASD (Pinder-Amaker 2014). We summarize two projects: one investigating these mental health issues and barriers for service, and one reporting on the social support experiences of students who participated in the first decade of the York University (Ontario, Canada) ASD Mentoring Program (AMP). The AMP is a peer mentorship program providing individual and group activities to help achieve individualized goals.


Objectives: Identify the frequency of mental health issues in AMP participants, their service utilization patterns, and barriers to accessing needed services.

Methods: Participants: 45 students enrolled in the AMP between 2013-2017. 82% were male, average age at program entry was 21 years (SD= 2.38)

Procedure:Students completed an initial interview with their mentor, querying self-disclosed ASD and secondary mental health diagnoses, service utilization, and barriers in accessing services.

Results: The majority of participants (56%) reported at least one additional mental health diagnosis, with half of these (52%) indicating two or more. Most common were anxiety disorders (31%) and mood disorders (24%). Over half of students utilized one or more services in addition to AMP (range = 1–7). 40% of students indicated there were supports they would like to receive but were not currently accessing. The most commonly reported barrier was self-imposed: a desire to handle problems on their own. Other common barriers included wait time and the steps to accessing services being overwhelming.


Transitioning to post-secondary institutions can exacerbate risk of mental health issues in individuals with ASD. Participants indicated multiple barriers to access mental health services. We identify strategies to support students to increase probability of successful post-secondary experience.


Objectives: We evaluated which aspects of social support were most used and valued by a subset of students enrolled in the York University AMP.

Methods: Participants: 25 students, males=78%, mean age=21.43 years (SD=3.76) in their first year in AMP.

Procedure: Participants completed questionnaires at the beginning and end of the academic year. Goals for participation were collected at the beginning of the year; additional measures at the beginning and end of the year included social support and friendship questionnaires, as well as ratings of how well they had achieved their goals and satisfaction.

Results: Topics addressed in individual meetings included social skills and coursework (87% of participants), followed by dating/romantic relationships (43%). 77% indicated they had achieved their goals (most common: develop/improve social skills and friendships), and 77% indicated the program had been helpful in goal achievement. Satisfaction with AMP was high (M=4.22/5, SD=0.60) and with individual meetings (M=4.52/5, SD=0.59).

Conclusions: Social support is a major barrier for educational attainment for students with ASD (Cai and Richdale, 2016). Our findings reinforce the benefit of providing a targeted mentoring program focusing largely on social skills, even after only one year in the program. The AMP model has been successfully adapted by other institutions.