Mr Colin Clark1, Mrs Debbie Hindle1
1University Of Tasmania, Launceston, Australia
The University of Tasmanian has identified a steady rise over recent years in the number of students enrolled who identify and disclose as living with Autism. Following on from a small pilot study at the end of 2017, an expanded mentor program was launched prior to Semester One 2018, capped initially at 25 participants. The program aimed both to develop the disability awareness and leadership skills of the mentors as well as providing transition and ongoing peer support for participating mentees. Students on the spectrum are often attracted to higher education, sometimes excelling in particular fields. Yet, despite their academic potential and perseverance, many face barriers to higher education, impeding academic success. Unfortunately, these students are less likely to indicate their need for help and even if they do, their specific needs are often outside the range of existing accommodations and supports. The diverse profiles of students living with Autism means that a personalised, one to one approach of a peer provides many benefits. The effectiveness of the peers has been maximised by training, building team cohesiveness, reflective practices and close supervision/coaching. Initial evaluation of the program is showing some remarkable results for both the mentors and mentees. Qualitative data particularly reveals some significant impact, emphasising the benefits of students working together towards a common goal of academic success.
Colin is Head of Student Wellbeing at the University of Tasmania. As a practising psychologist he has worked for many years predominantly with adults living with a range of mental, physical and behavioural conditions with the aim to help them live a fullness of life. He currently oversees counselling, disability, spiritual and pastoral care and preventative wellbeing services at the university.
Debbie is the Coordinator of the Specialist Peer Mentoring Program. She compiled the popular resource: How to Transition to Tertiary Education: Helpful Hints for People with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Previously, as a National Disability Coordination Officer she supported many students with ASD and initiated a state-wide cross-sector working group to improve these transitions. She holds a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology. She also draws on nearly a decades experience as a mentor to a young women with ASD.