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10. Mentoring to support transition and employment for people with intellectual disability

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What is mentoring?

Mentorship relationships entail the provision of ongoing guidance, instruction, and encouragement to promote competence (Lindsay et al., 2016, p. 1330).

Other elements of a mentoring relationship include:

  • It is reciprocal, though the main focus is on the growth and development of the mentee;
  • It is dynamic: the relationship changes over time (Lindsay et al. 2016).

There are many types of mentoring including face to face activity, electronic mentoring, and peer mentoring models.

Peer mentoring is a type of mentoring where mentors are ‘individuals who share a common characteristic such as age, gender or identifying as a person with a disability’ (Kramer et al. 2018, p. 118).  Peer mentoring draws on learning from the mentor’s lived experience which is seen to be ‘unique from and complementary to formal instruction or support provided by professionals’ (Kramer et al., 2018, p. 119).

Peer mentoring for transition‐age youth with I/DD [intellectual and developmental disability] provides an opportunity for mentees to gain knowledge that supports successful transition to adulthood. For example, mentees with I/DD may benefit from peer mentors with I/DD who have experience setting and achieving goals, who know how to problem‐solve barriers to inclusion and participation and who internalize a positive disability identity (Kramer et al., 2018, p.119).

Electronic mentoring (e-mentoring) includes using email, online (e.g. video chat, synchronous typed messaging), and phone calls either as the main or sole form of communication or in tandem with some in-person activities (Kramer et al. 2018).

Mentoring related to transition from school to post school education and employment can take many forms, for example it can be undertaken in one-to-one or in group formats and be offered in many locations, including:

  • School-based. This has included: being delivered by adults with disability in classroom settings; peer tutoring or peer mentoring.
  • Community based, utilizing trained mentors (sometimes peer mentors) involving groups or one-one mentoring face to face or via phone and online contact.
  • Work based, using co-workers as mentors, or peers without disability as mentors (Kaehne & Bayer, 2013).
  • Online, using peer mentors who connect with mentees via email and internet activities.
  • Focused on families
  • Or have multiple elements of the above (Lindsay et al. 2016).

In mentoring programs focused on transition to work, mentors:

  • Are role models
  • Provide social and emotional support
  • Provide motivation and encouragement
  • Help mentees (young people with disability) to navigate services
  • Support mentees to build social and self-advocacy skills
  • Provide advice on work options and opportunities (Lindsay et al. 2016).

Outcomes of mentoring

Two large scale reviews of the research literature, one of 22 studies (Lindsay et al., 2016) and one of 40 studies (Lindsay & Munson, 2018), have reported on the evidence of a range of outcomes for youth with disability (under 25 yrs) related to mentoring programs. These reviews focused on mentoring programs supporting employment or transition to employment and post school education for people with disability (including intellectual disability), and found the following outcomes:

  • increased self determination and empowerment
  • increased decision making and problem solving
  • increased social skills and independence
  • increased knowledge related to transition to employment and post-school education
  • increased academic and career development
  • increased psychosocial health, quality of life and protective factors (Lindsay et al., 2016; Lindsay & Munson, 2018).

Overall, Lindsay et al. (2016) concluded that:

Consistent evidence suggests that effective mentorship interventions can also have benefits for youth with disabilities, in terms of job training, educational attainment, career supports, social skills, self-esteem, attendance, and work ethic (p. 1330).

Mentoring programs can also have outcomes for mentors, including educators and employers, in relation to increasing knowledge of a person’s with disability’s strengths and skills, and decreasing stigma and prejudice (Lindsay et al. 2016).

Key ingredients of success

A range of ingredients have been found to be associated with outcomes of mentoring:

  • Programs with a duration of 6 months or more, enabling strong relationships between mentors and mentees (Lindsay et al. 2016)
  • Structured programs with a planned curriculum rather than individualized (Lindsay et al. 2016)
  • Paid coordinator responsible for mentor training, monitoring the implementation (Lindsay et al. 2016) and supervision of mentors (Kramer et al. 2018).
  • Group based or mixed formats (Lindsay et al. 2016)
  • Clear expectations for duration and frequency of contact (Kramer et al., 2018)
  • Mentor characteristics that include: consistency, dependability, ‘interest in supporting a mentee, respect for the mentee’s viewpoint and willingness to seek and utilize support from programme staff’ (Kramer et al., 2018, p.120)
  • Alignment between mentor’s experiences and goals of the mentoring program (Kramer et al., 2018)
  • Provision of peer mentor training to build mentoring skills and clarity around mentor-mentee interactions
  • Mentees having choice over preferred communication technology (if using e-mentoring) (Kramer et al., 2018)
  • Focus on both fostering the mentor-mentee relationship, as well as delivering the goals (content) of the program (Kramer et al., 2018).

Summarising the views of a number of researchers, Kramer et al. (2016) propose that peer mentoring has particular utility for people with intellectual disability.

Peer support and peer‐mediated interventions are increasingly used as best practice for transition‐age youth with developmental and intellectual disabilities (Kramer et al., 2018, p. 118).

In a peer mentoring program specifically designed for people with intellectual disability, researchers used two key features to support mentors with intellectual disability: a peer‐mentoring script (including visual supports) and a peer mentor supporter/supervisor who provided real-time supervision and support during mentoring sessions, as well as time to practice before sessions and debrief after them. Customized employment supports were also provided for mentors with intellectual disability. Overall, researchers found this approach to be successful but required high levels of resourcing (Kramer et al. 2018). To address this high resource impost, the researchers suggest:

Community‐based organizations adopting electronic peer mentoring should consider partnerships with local colleges or vocational training institutions, as such partnerships could provide students with valuable hands‐on experience and ensure organizations have access to highly qualified personnel to serve as supervisors (Kramer et al., 2018, p.127).

Several researchers suggest that the use of electronic peer mentoring has potential to broaden the scope and availability of peer mentoring programs (Cassiani, 2019;) especially where barriers exist to accessing in-person mentoring, such as lack of transportation or personal assistance, particularly for people with intellectual disability (Kramer et al., 2018).

Using a different model, researchers in the UK in the Youth Supported Employment Program (YSEP) matched peers without disability (from the same school) with mentees with intellectual disability while undertaking work experience placement. This model is also known as a peer-facilitated work placement. During the placement, the mentors travelled with the mentee from home to workplace, stayed at the workplace to provide advice and problem solving support, then travelled home with mentees. While outcomes were generally positive, there is insufficient evidence to confirm the positive effect of peer mentoring on these outcomes (Kaehne & Beyer, 2013).


Cassiani, C. S., Jennifer; Lindsay, Sally. (2019). E-mentoring for youth with physical disabilities preparing for employment: a content analysis of support exchanged between participants of a mentored and non-mentored group.

Kaehne, A., & Beyer, S. (2013). Supported employment for young people with intellectual disabilities facilitated through peer support: A pilot study. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, 17(3), 236.

Kramer, J., Ryan, C., Moore, R., & Schwartz, A. (2018). Feasibility of electronic peer mentoring for transition‐age youth and young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities: Project teens making environment and activity modifications. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 31, e118-e129. doi: 10.1111/jar.12346

Lee, E. A. L., Black, M. H., Tan, T., Falkmer, T., & Girdler, S. (2019). “I’m Destined to Ace This”: Work Experience Placement During High School for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord, 49(8), 3089-3101. doi: 10.1007/s10803-019-04024-x

Lindsay, S.; Hartman, L. & Fellin, M. (2016) A systematic review of mentorship programs to facilitate transition to post-secondary education and employment for youth and young adults with disabilities, Disability and Rehabilitation, 38(14), 1329-1349, DOI: 10.3109/09638288.2015.1092174

 Lindsay, S., & Munson, M. R. (2018). Mentoring For Youth With Disabilities. from

The authors would like to acknowledge the usefulness of Crosbie, J.: Murfitt, K.; Hayward, S. & Wilson, E. (2019), NDIS Participant Employment Taskforce. Literature review: Employment and economic participation of people with disability, Burwood, Deakin University, as a review of similar literature that provided initial guidance.

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