Jasmine McDonald

Curtin Specialist Mentoring
Program (CSMP):
for students on the autism
spectrum and related conditions
• Mid 2013 - Meeting with UWA, Curtin & Telethon Kids
Institute to discuss support needs/research regarding
tertiary students with high functioning autism (HFA).
All agree something needs to be done!
• Mid/Late 2013 - Joint funding sought through both
UWA & Curtin to set up specialist mentoring programs.
• Mid/Late 2013 - Curtin funds a staff member (Theresa
Kidd) for one day per week to begin a pilot program in
2014. UWA unable to do so.
• Late 2013 - Autism West offers to fund Dr Jasmine
McDonald to support Theresa Kidd in developing pilot
• Early 2014 to now – CSMP develops according to best
practice research, staff & student input and need.
Why is this program needed?
• Rates of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis are
increasing in Australia (Buckley, 2013).
• No. of Australians diagnosed with ASD doubles every 5
years approx. (Buckley, 2013).
• June 2012 (Centrelink data – Carer allowance) - 53,428
Australian children aged under 16 years diagnosed with
either Autistic or Asperger’s Disorder (ie. 1 in 61.5 of
school-aged children) (Buckley, 2013).
• More young adults with high functioning autism (HFA)
are entering tertiary study and will need appropriate
support and accommodation to succeed.
• Current international research indicates these young
adults are significantly disadvantaged regarding
employment, social relationships, physical /mental health
and quality of life (Howlin & Moss, 2012).
Why is this program needed?
• Survey of 300 Australian adults with HFA indicated that:
– They experience significant struggles to realise their
full educational potential.
– 80% had tried tertiary study.
– 75% indicated they needed support.
– 50% indicated they received no or insufficient support.
(Aspect, 2012)
• Disability Officers reported this group’s difficulties with
verbal comprehension, planning, organisation, social
awareness and group work (Aspect, 2012).
• Disability Officers reported a general lack of awareness
and understanding of autism among tertiary educators
(Aspect, 2012).
What works?
Limited current research indicates:
• Promising ASD specialist support programs are
presently operating in a small no. of universities/colleges
in UK, USA and Canada – v. limited in Australia.
• A community of practice occurs driven by student and
staff input.
• Support is given in the areas of: transition,
accommodation, online resources, diagnosis, specialist
mentoring, staff awareness training, universal design for
learning, careers advice, work experience, social
awareness and sensory difficulties.
• Specialist peer mentoring is nominated as an important
resource to help students navigate university life and
develop increased independence and self-advocacy.
• A social group is also nominated as important to help
develop social skills and a sense of belonging at
Who is a CSMP Mentor?
A postgraduate Psychology or Occupational
Therapy (OT) student who uses their own
educational success at Curtin to help guide
a student on the autism spectrum to become
a more successful student in terms of their:
– retention
– academic success
– emotional well-being
What does a CSMP Mentor do?
Meet / Communicate (all forms) regularly with mentee.
Understand their mentee’s individual profile/background.
Be flexible and individualize their support program.
Ensure mentee is registered with Curtin Counselling
Disability Services (CDS) & has a Curtin Access Plan to
gain accommodations.
• Build on their mentee’s short and long term life goals.
• Link their mentee to appropriate Curtin services and
clubs to support their academic, social, emotional and
employment needs and goals.
• Encourage their mentee to attend the Curtin Social
Group (CSG) to develop their social skills, friendships
and sense of belonging at university.
How does CSMP work?
• CDS recommends suitable mentees (internal/external).
• CSMP also advertise through radio, parent networks etc.
• Mentors receive Student Transition And Retention Team
(START)mentor and CSMP training prior to semester.
• Mentees provide a detailed intake form.
• Mentees and Mentors communicate on an ‘as needs’
• Mentors and mentees are encouraged to attend CSG.
• Regular weekly supervision meetings occur to ensure
mentors/coordinators receive adequate support and
follow up.
• Mentors are paid through Commonwealth and University
Who was involved in 2014?
9 Mentors:
• 5 OT Postgraduate Students – 1 (male) 4 (female)
• 4 Psychology Postgraduate Students – 4 (female)
17 Mentees:
• 14 Internal Students - 10 (male) 4 (female)
• 3 External Students - 3 (male)
• (16 retained for 2015)
3 Social Group Coordinators:
• 2 Psychology Honours Students - 2 (female)
Who else was involved in 2014?
• 2 CSMP Coordinators (part-time).
• Disability & Counselling Staff (as needed).
• 2 Psychology Masters’ Students
conducting independent CSMP training &
program evaluations (Results early 2015).
What do those involved think of our
program so far?
“The mentor program for me has given more
confidence in what I want to do when I leave university
and has also given me something to look forward to
during the week along with some new friends. It also
allows me to seek help from those who understand my
condition and have the ability to talk to someone when
there is no one else to talk to. Plus being able to
recognize people around campus makes the place feel
less big and full of strangers.”
CSMP Mentee.
What do those involved think of our
program so far?
“Going into university for the first time was challenging and
scary yet exciting all on its own. Struggling with new
situations, structure and community made the mentoring
program such a vital safety net and building bridge in
becoming my own person and making a name for myself.
Although I went into university with outside friends on the
other side of campus, the program gave me a mentor that
helped make and keep friends in my degree and yet
support me with regular conversations, meetings and
information. I've been a part of programs like this before
and nothing compares to support, care and thrive for my
success it offers.”
CSMP Mentee.
What do those involved think of our
program so far?
“My son is a first year Curtin university student studying
Physics and Engineering. Being autistic, he finds it difficult
to fit into general social environments, and consequently to
make friends and feel accepted. However, the mentoring
program has been instrumental in helping him settle into
university life, alleviating the enormous stress he had
initially been suffering. He has found guidance, support,
friendship and understanding.The weekly group meetings
have also been a wonderful part of the program. They have
been fun and informative and allowed my son to make
friends and meet people who understand him, in a safe and
supportive environment. Without this fantastic program C.
(mentee) would still be feeling anxious and isolated. Thank
you, from a very grateful mother.”
CSMP Parent.
What do those involved think of our
program so far?
“My son would not have made it through the
1st semester without the help of his mentor.
The mentoring program has given B.
(mentee) the best start we could have hoped
for. Without the mentor program he would
have given up his studies.”
CSMP Parent.
What do those involved think of our
program so far?
“The mentoring program offers the mentees a rare
opportunity to meet like-minded people their age and
fosters the development of interpersonal relationships.
There is a scarcity of such opportunities for adults on the
spectrum. My mentee has been at Curtin for 3 years and
had never made any friends. He now attends the weekly
social club meetings as well as plays cards with another
mentee weekly. These social gatherings mean a lot to
my mentee, he continually indicates that he wants to
improve his social skills. I believe the mentoring program
provides him with an opportunity to reach this goal.”
CSMP Mentor.
What are out Future Directions?
• To gain appropriate, recurrent funding to allow CSMP to
continue operating after 2015 (Curtin / Autism West).
• To gain philanthropic funding to provide scholarships, a
dedicated psychologist and an appropriate study
space/common room on campus.
• To continually improve and expand CSMP over successive
years based on evaluation results and stakeholder feedback.
• To increase linkage of mentees with employment/work
experience opportunities.
• To support the expansion of specialist mentoring to other
Curtin disability groups.
• To utilise funds gained through the Autism Cooperative
Research Centre (CRC) grant to allow CSMP to be replicated
and evaluated at UWA in 2015/16.
• To produce a best practice module based on UWA / Curtin
experience that will be available to other tertiary institutions
through the Autism CRC website.
Ames, M., McMorris, C., Hancock, L., Bebko, J., & The York
University Asperger Mentorship Program (Schroeder, J., Brown, S.,
McFee, K., Goldstein, G., Wells, K.). (2010). Evaluation of the York
University Asperger Mentorship Program International Meeting For
Autism Research, held in Philadelphia, PA, 23/4/2014: York
University. Retrieved from
Ames, M., McMorris, C., Hancock, L., McFee, K., Bebko, J., & The
York University Asperger Mentorship Program (Schroeder, J., Brown,
S., Goldstein, G. & Wells, K.) (n.d.). [Evaluation of the York University
Asperger Mentorship Program].
Attwood, T. (2007) The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome.
London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect). (2012). We Belong:
Investigating the experiences, aspirations and needs of adults with
Asperger’s disorder and high functioning autism. Sydney: Author.
Buckley, B. (2013). Data describing Autism Spectrum Disorder in
Australia. Paper presented at Asia Pacific Autism Conference
2013, Adelaide, Australia.
Hastwell, J., Harding, J., Martin, N., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2013).
Asperger Syndrome Student Project, 2009-12: Final Project
Report, June 2013. Retrieved from University of Cambridge,
Disability Resource Centre website:
Howlin, P. & Moss, P. (2012). Adults With Autism Spectrum
Disorders. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 57(5), 275-283.
Wolf, L.,Thierfeld Brown, J. & Kukiela Bork, G. (2009). Students
with Asperger Syndrome: A Guide for College Personnel.
Shawnee Mission, Kansas: Autism Asperger Publishing Co.

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