Social mentors can play a powerful role in the social development of young adults with Asperger's Syndrome and other Learning Differences. They serve as role models who teach young adults important communication skills and model real life social situations. These situations can include going to a restaurant, attending a sporting event or visiting a shopping mall.
For example, if a student enjoys computer gaming, and he or she has difficulty forming friendships or introducing him/herself to others, the social mentor may suggest that they go to a video store. On the way to the store, the mentor can share a story about how he or she recently initiated a conversation with a new person. At the store, the student can attempt to have a conversation with the sales clerk by asking about the latest and newest video games available. After the experience, the social mentor can give the student feedback regarding what they did well and what areas need improvement.
Mentors can be neurotypical college undergraduate or graduate students studying in the fields of social work, psychology, or special education. After being trained, they can meet weekly with students to improve their understanding in key areas of communication. Initially, the mentor can arrange an appointment with a mentee and spend time getting to know the student.
During this time, the student has the opportunity to talk about concerns, and what he or she might like to work on in several social competency areas. This could include discussing how to make and maintain eye contact, how to initiate a conversation, or how to ask open-ended questions that lead to further conversation. The mentor and the student can formulate a plan of what they will do, what they plan to accomplish, and what new skills they can try to develop during scheduled weekly sessions.
The activities and social scenarios that take place during each session are constructed by the mentor and monitored with skill and care. The mentor presents the information to the student in a clear and relaxed manner so each outing can provide a growth in social understanding. Working with a social mentor must be as stress free as possible and should be perceived by students as a fun experience.
Social mentoring can be an effective teaching tool for young adults on the spectrum. By developing and refining their skills in real life situations, they can learn to communicate more effectively with others. As the students become adept with their new skills at home, at college, and in the community, young adults can gain confidence as they build a foundation for a happy and productive life.