ANISE here from downunder. I signed up to the Mentor program with the university I graduated from here in Brisbane. The concept is quite basic, I am a mentor, I am assigned a Mintee, and I meet with him/her every two weeks for three months.

So I have been assigned a gentleman who is ten years OLDER than I am, and who appears to be 'challenged'. The co-ordinating group have contacted me, and alerted me to this fact, but they are not sure exactly what it is. He is a bit like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, repeats everything that you say. He is about to complete a Masteres of Commerce, so again like Dustin Hoffman he is intelligent.

I am just at a bit of a loss, and a bit out of my depth.

Does anyone have any sugestions or feedback for coaching a challenged person?

Thank-you in advance.

jhack's picture

First, kudos for working as a mentor.

Second, what is the goal of the mentoring program? Is it improved academics, smoother transition to work after school, etc? Make sure you have one clear goal in mind.

Caveat: I'm making some assumptions here based on your description. Nothing I recommend after my brief about ASD is inappropriate for anyone, disabled or not.

You identify him as a bit like Raymond (Rainman). Autism Spectrum Disorder is a broad category of diagnoses, including something known as Asperger's. Many people, not affected enough to receive a diagnosis, still demonstrate some of the characteristics: limited social skills, language deficits, and repetitive non-functional behaviors. The only way to diagnose is through observation of behavior. There are no blood tests, MRIs, etc, that can diagnose this condition.

You can read more at and other sites. Be aware that the online world of ASD is filled with much contentious debate. Your mintee may or may not be "on the spectrum."

The only scientifically proven way to have a positive impact on such a condition is through the science of Applied Behavior Analysis. Fortunately, this means primarily feedback. The challenge is to find out what his DISC profile implies, and be aware that the consequences for good or bad performance may need to be highly customized based on what you get to know about him, his goals in life, and his short term needs/wants. So just get to know him and his goals, observe what he does well, and what needs adjusting, and help him see the connection between changes he can make and the impact on him.

You may need to model behavior for him, show him how to respond to comments from others (training and coaching). Perhaps a technique where he picks a key word from the other person and either talks about it or asks about it. This a very hard skill and you are unlikely to teach it as part of a mentoring relationship. But as you say, he's smart, so help him see the connection.

Good luck, and thanks for working to help others.


anise's picture


Thanks for such a detailed response. I have been dwelling on this all day.

You have described him far better than I have, and I don't really know a lot about these issues. I am sure I will learn a lot from the experience.

The GOAL : assist him in transitioning to the workplace from university.

I will look at the site you suggested, I am not trying to label him, just trying to work out what steps I can take to make this work.

I will work through the DISC profiles - that will make a good one hour or more session for us - and hopefully leave hime with something constructive to think about.

Thank-you so much,

ANISE from BrisVegas

wendii's picture
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when I worked at the council and we interviewed a much wider range of people than perhaps happens in the corporate world we were taught first to ask: what do you need?

For example, a deaf person may read lips and therefore need to face us, and for us to speak a little slower and perhaps repeat ourselves more often, or they may need a translator, or they may have a family member who accompanies them to translate.

You can't find out by assuming, so asking (as at the beginning of any working realtionship really) is the best first step.

I hope that helps.


WillDuke's picture
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Once again I'm humbled by this community. John's detailed and thoughtful response is inspiring. Wendii, as always, is right on the money. And most of all your selfless giving of your time and energy is truly remarkable.

I wanted to add one thing, and it's really more of an awareness. I think that your intentions mean everything. If you work with your "mentee" honestly and with his or her best interest at heart, everything else will work out.

That doesn't excuse anyone from doing the research and work it takes to make something like this come together. But you're clearly doing that. You're utilizing resources to help another person. Kudos are definitely in order.

Mark's picture
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I suspect this approach is not in vogue, but nevertheless it has been my experience that when others are described this way, they know it...and the WORST thing you can do is act as if nothing is different, that no change is required.

Diversity at times has been perverted into "everybody's okay, no matter what"...which is certainly true spiritually, and morally/ethically...but in this situation you are being asked to be a resource that has little tactically to do with this person's soul.

It is ASSUMED that you will be addressing his skills and abilities, and clearly his situation presents some interesting challenges.

And he knows it.


"Robert, tell me about your situation. I've noticed that you repeat everything I say. I can see that creating problems for you in some situations. Can you tell me what YOUR concerns are about what your situation is and what you want to do?"

Don't act as if he is not different. Being open about our differences is the beauty of diversity.


jhack's picture

Mark, that is a great point. And the "differently abled" do not want to be patronized or treated as less able (for example, don't offer to push the wheelchair unless you are absolutely certain that would be well received!) We all want to be recognized for who we are.


wendii's picture
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you reminded me of a situation I was in a long time ago - I was about 12 and on an aeroplane seated away from my parents, and next to a man with one arm.

Around came the peanuts and I couldn't work out how he would open them. So I said, do you need some help with that? And he said 'I can manage, but as you offered to help so kindly, that would be lovely.' and I did.

But I always remember it as such a nice way to say it, without making me feel bad for getting it wrong.


rthibode's picture

First, congratulations on making a commitment to help others. It's always a great learning experience.

In my limited experience with adults who have Autism Spectrum Disorders, Mark's suggestion would work very well. These individuals often have trouble reading the subtle social cues that the rest of us take for granted. If you address their difficulties head-on, you'll get farther. The focus on behaviour that's becoming second nature to MT members is extremely valuable here.

sklosky's picture


I have a suggestion.

Lean on your network resources a bit. There are many people who have dedicated a great deal of time learning how to teach and mentor challenged people. Here in the states most of these folks are called "Special Education" teachers. I'm figuring you have the equivalent folks there downunder.

My suggestion is that you reach out some folks you know personally who are specialist in that area. Use them to help you be more effective when mentoring your mintee.

Best of luck,

anise's picture

Thank-you to everyone who responded.

I am over half way into the programme and here is what I have done so far...

I encouraged him to get a new email address, because he will soon loose his student email address, and potential employees need to contact him - he did this.

I encouraged him to get message bank on his mobile phone, so potential employees can leave him a message - he has done this - but the message is not great - but it is there.

We worked on a business card which would have this key communication details on it. I showed him vistaprint for some cheap business cards. I have not seen the end result yet - but he has sorted out the above mentioned communication issues.

We worked on a ‘15 second pitch’ for him ~ I know you want to hear it ~

“My name is XXXX. I am a final year student at XXLocalXX University specialising in taxation. I enjoy the challenges of taxation law and its application to individual situations. I am currently looking for a firm to complete my professional year with.”

There is a web site called 15 second pitch, which I used to assist us to structure this. We worked togeather, he repeated the pitch out loud several times, and he seemed quite happy with it.

Both I and the university student services broached the subject of his challenges, and he clamed up and would not talk about it.

So the above is the good.

Unfortunately there is bad. It would be really easy for me to simply not to have made this post. But I feel that would be unfair to those of you who have responded with such thought and interest.

I was invited to make a one hour presentation on the first day of a four day conference to my peers. I invited him along, only on the first day, so that he would be able to sit in on the seminar, and have the opportunity to both network, and understand the training/seminar presentation aspect of my work life. So they day was going well, he was talking, networking etc. I came to do my presentation, and midway thru it he started negatively heckling me. You could hear a pin drop, the audience and I were stunned, I walked across to the other side of the room and continued on, so he was out of my vision, and as if nothing had happened.

So I tried with the resources that I have available to me, but I feel I have failed.

I am no longer mentoring him, and I have received an email apology from him regarding his behaviour.

I am not upset by what he did, nor am I frazzled by it, I just don't feel I had much left in my bag of tricks to assist him.

Apologies for going on, it must sound like I am floggin a dead horse. I just felt that I should let you know it did not work out as well as I had hoped.

It was a learning experience, and I will sign up again for the programme next year.

Live & learn


juliahhavener's picture
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Thank you for the update. I'm glad to hear that you were able to make some progress in key areas. I'm sorry to hear that you weren't in others. Experience is what makes us grow - whether that experience is good, bad, or indifferent.

Congratulations on taking the leap, and good luck going forward!

jhack's picture

Perhaps the most challenging disability to others is a behavioral disability. There are no visual cues (like a wheelchair, or distinctive physical traits) that indicate the person is not "responsible" for their behavior. There is a cultural belief (reasonable) that people are to be held responsible for their behavior.

So it can be very unsettling when someone clearly breaches social behavioral norms. With no cues, we assume the worst. And those who are close to the "transgressor" can be tainted by association.

You are doing great work helping someone who struggles with the complexity of social interaction. There is nothing harder to teach, and progress can be glacial. He apologized, so clearly he learned something.

You've not failed. You've done great work.


anise's picture

Thank-you both for your positive words, I was expecting to get scoffed at this morning.

jhack you really have a grasp of this situation and how I was feeling.

You said - "And those who are close to the "transgressor" can be tainted by association. " - which I guess sums up the feelings at my end.

I completely agree social interaction is hard and complicated, sometimes we forget how hard it is, and take what we do for granted.

I always say to my students that failure is a greater learning experience than success...and I have learnt a lot - not what I expected though...


WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

I sam low getting in on this, but want to really agree with John. Just because your mentee had a slip doesn't mean you didn't make a difference. You did. Good for you. And really good for him.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

What a fabulous success!

Please don't mistake a bump in the road for a failure. Two steps forward, one step back... NONE of this would have happened without your help.

The world needs more folks like you. Celebrate that "failure" - because to talk about it you'd have to share all the success it was wrapped up in.

What were we put on earth to do, if not to help one another through?