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The Value of a Mentor for People With Autism

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I have always known that people benefit from good relationships they build with others. However, I never knew how much a person could gain from a relationship with a mentor. A mentor provides their mentee with support they might feel they are lacking. A mentor becomes someone that a mentee can look up to, that they can trust and learn from. Over the past year, I have come to learn that people with disabilities can often benefit from a mentor far more than anyone else.

A few months ago, I started working as a mentor at a summer camp for kids and teens with autism. I was paired up to work one-on-one with a high functioning 4-year-old boy. The first week of camp was somewhat difficult; as everyone knows, it takes time to earn someone’s trust and create a foundation for a new relationship. At first, he did not want to listen to me when I would try to help him through tough situations. He had a tendency to zone out when his brain was over stimulated, he would get hyper and not listen. When something didn’t go his way, he would tune everything out and start to kick and scream, pull my hair, and often bite as well. As his mentor, I knew it was my duty to help him work through this. Over the course of the three weeks we had together at camp, I set a goal to try to do everything in my power to eliminate these behaviors.

Since establishing a good relationship is key when it comes to mentoring, I started out by getting to know him. I would talk to him as I would to one of my close friends, and he did the same. He learned to trust me, but he knew I was still his superior. He started to look up to me, and he even told his mom that he loved camp because he got to hang out with me. Over time, he learned that even though I was firm with him at times and he didn’t always like me very much, he knew that in the end I was there for him. He knew that I was there to help and he couldn’t scare me off with a bite or kick. Over the course of a few weeks, his parents told me that they noticed major behavioral changes in him. He has always been a very polite, smart kid, but they started to see those qualities in him more often. The parents noted that he was able to sit at the dinner table and have a respectable conversation with them for the first time. He also became very easy to reason with in tough situations and would even listen to me when it was time to go home without putting up a fight. Through positive reinforcement and encouragement, he quickly learned that if he acted like a big kid, then he would be treated like one. I would reason with him when things went wrong, and he would always show that he understood what he did wrong when he calmed down.

When we worked together, the biggest concept we focused on was respect. He learned that we should stop and think about our actions before carrying them out to make sure we weren’t disrespecting anyone. Our relationship became a model for his relationships with others and our daily interactions became basic examples of ways to make good choices.

The most important product that came out of our relationship was that he knew he had someone there to support him during his rough times. I was not only his friend, but also someone he could trust and look up to. I was there to help him through tough situations and to coach him through decision-making when he needed help. His parents noticed major behavioral improvements in just a few weeks of us working together. It is important for everyone, especially those with disabilities, to know that they will always have someone there to help and encourage them through any situation life will bring them. Mentors can help in all aspects of life, and I strongly believe that anyone, regardless of age or condition, can benefit from the right mentor.

-Joceyln Burke is a mentor and tutor at Xcite Steps, a special needs service organization supporting, enriching and empowering the lives of kids, teens and adults with autism through a variety of social, behavioral and recreational therapies. To find out more please visit

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