A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. It’s not a paid position. And it is not necessarily a friend. Some people may have a mentor or be a mentor, and never use that title. I have had mentors throughout my career, and I served as a mentor to others at work. When I founded Yes She Can I sought out experts in non profit management and in workforce development and in fundraising to guide me. Now at our training program we have peer mentors participate with our trainees as experienced and trusted advisors at work. A formal mentor relationship for employees with autism can be valuable for both the employee and the business.
The Benefits of Having a Mentor, By Debra Solomon, Life & Career Coach
People with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) face challenges in the workplace which often make it difficult for them to display their valuable skills. These challenges include understanding another person’s perspective, adjusting to a change in priorities, picking up subtle suggestions, and grasping unwritten social norms (“the hidden agenda”). Even when an employee excels in his core work, failure to fit in behaviorally can lead to termination.
To navigate these challenges, it is invaluable for employees with ASD to have a mentor in the workplace.
As a professional life and job coach for clients with ASD, I will discuss the benefits that are possible from having a mentor who is the right fit for an individual on the autism spectrum, in order to help her or him achieve success in the workplace.
Qualifications of a Mentor
A good mentor should be responsible and demonstrate leadership qualities, while also relating to the employee in a way that makes her or him comfortable. Often the mentor is someone who is already employed at the same firm, and familiar with the company’s organization and culture in order to guide the new employee through any roadblocks that he or she may encounter.
The mentor should be familiar with characteristics of autism and have some training in dealing with the unique challenges that people with autism face. In my practice, I have seen the benefit of pairing a mentor who herself has autism with an employee on the spectrum.
How Mentorship Works
To enable the employee with ASD to relate naturally to her co-workers and be considered part of the team, the best practice is to avoid having the employee with ASD singled out. Mentors should therefore not obviously hover around their mentee throughout the work day, but rather, be available as a resource for the mentee to reach out to for guidance in overcoming any roadblocks. A mentor can
- help break down the tasks the employee is faced with;
- write down notes that would help with task performance;
- create charts that would help organize the tasks or the work day for the employee;
- emphasize the benefits of time management;
- require the mentee be accountable to the mentor for completing the tasks assigned.
In addition, because “soft skills” are critical for success in the workplace, mentors should encourage the mentee to focus on these skills. Mentors can remind their charges to
- speak to others in “normal” tone of voice;
- be responsive to inquiries from coworkers;
- avoid the invasion of coworkers’ personal space;
- come to work in clean clothes and proper hygiene;
- being appropriately deferential to management;
- accepting critical feedback.
The mentor can also be a person to whom the mentee can express any concerns or issues that may arise for them. Essentially, act as a sympathetic ear to the employee.
A goal for employees who receive the benefits of a mentorship program should be to become mentors themselves. It would instill confidence in an employee to work harder and to develop the independent skills necessary to help others and excel at their own tasks. In doing so, they would also develop the leadership qualities that can help them in their career.
Achieving Business Goals
Having mentors in the workplace for those on the autism spectrum can benefit both the employee and the organization. The employee has someone to help him or her adapt to the work environment, learn how to best present themselves to others in the company, and focus on their capabilities in order to better contribute to the company. And, just as importantly, the organization can gain the skills for which the employee was actually hired, while increasing productivity and developing a culture where diversity is accepted.
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About the author
Debra K. Solomon is an NYU-certified Life and Career Coach, and founder of Spectrum Strategies, working with young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and other learning differences. As an advocate, she raises awareness of their abilities and challenges, as well as educates employers and other professionals. Through individual and group coaching, Debra provides the support and tools necessary for her clients to build a solid foundation for a successful and fulfilling future in both their work and personal environment. Debra has practices in Manhattan and on Long Island. Debra serves on the Board of Directors of Yes She Can Inc.
Learn more at Spectrum Strategies.
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