Background: Adult mentors can positively influence development, yet youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have too little access to adult mentors who can provide role modeling, guidance, and support. Furthermore, neurotypical adult mentors (i.e., adult mentors without ASD) may not understand the day-to-day realities that youth with ASD face and the social world they navigate. Therefore, it is possible that adults with ASD may be particularly well-suited as mentors for youth with ASD.

Method: Six semi-structured focus groups of four to seven people each explored the need for a mentoring program to bridge the gap between the supports youth with ASD need and what they currently receive. These focus groups included key stakeholders: youth with ASD, adults with ASD, and parents of youth and adults with ASD.

Results: Focus groups with key stakeholders demonstrate a significant need for the development of a one-to-one youth mentoring program delivered by adults with ASD.

Conclusion: There are significant gaps between the supports (particularly social supports) that adolescents with ASD need and those that are available to them. All of the focus groups concluded that a mentoring program in which adults with ASD are mentors for youth with ASD seems to be an acceptable and much-needed support for adolescents with ASD. Such a program is not currently known to exist.

Plain Language Summary

Youth and young adults with autism face difficulties. They often feel like they do not have the friendships they want. They also often feel like they are not connected to their communities. Sometimes, adults can support youth informally through mentoring. There are not many mentoring programs for youth with autism. Also, all of the known programs like that use mentors without autism. This study looks at whether people think it would be useful to develop more mentoring programs for youth with autism. It also looks at using young adults with autism as mentors for youth with autism.

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