At the Watson Institute, our special education teachers and staff work to adapt educational programming to best serve our students’ individualized needs. In the WISCA program, students with high functioning autism spectrum disorder receive therapeutic supports to help them work through assignments and learn social and behavior skills.
Throughout the last school year, Jennifer Do, a behavior specialist in Watson’s WISCA program, noticed some of the older students in the program helping out the younger students with their school work and with managing behaviors. Jennifer saw this as an opportunity to work with the students to formalize their actions into an autism peer mentoring program in which WISCA students could participate.
Student peer mentors and mentees range in age from 11 years old to 18 years old. In order to participate in the peer mentor program, students need to be completing their work and be on track with their goals, both educationally and behaviorally.
“Some of our student peer mentors help with curriculum. Some peer mentors we call upon when a student is having a hard time.” shared Jennifer.
One of the most successful peer mentorship pairings in this program is the partnership between Josh and Fred (pictured above in matching Pink Floyd shirts); both WISCA students (Josh is now an alumni having graduated in December) with high functioning autism spectrum disorder.
“Fred and Josh were one of the first pairings. They are a perfect match” shared Jennifer.
Fred shared that he was starting to fall behind in his classes and was looking for educational support. He also struggled with managing his emotions, specifically his anger.
“As a student it did help me do better but as a person I think I had a lot less stress because Josh knew what he was talking about. He knew a lot about anger management and it helped talking to him because he’s a friend.” shared Fred about his experience in the autism peer mentoring program.
One of the many benefits of the autism mentor program is the effect the mentees also have on their mentors. Student peer mentors are expected to set a good example for their mentee, not only academically, but behaviorally. That expectation helps the mentors manage their behaviors because they want to serve as a role model and show their mentee how to handle difficult emotional situations.
Autism Peer Mentoring Prepares for Post-Secondary Education
The mentor program also offered Josh a unique opportunity to prepare for post-secondary education by earning credits toward his high school elective courses. In the fall, Josh was splitting his time each week taking classes at CCAC and attending WISCA. Jennifer and a few of Josh’s teachers worked with him to collect information and data about the autism peer mentoring program, which he used for his final presentation during which he presented his experience and the takeaways he gleaned from his participation.
About 10 students are currently participating in the peer mentor program and with the expansion of the WISCA program to the Education Center South campus, Jennifer hopes to implement the program in those classrooms as well.
“I love this program so much for our kids. We’ve seen such positive outcomes.”
Learn more about the Watson Institute’s WISCA special education school program.