The Bridge School
Self-Determination Program

Mentorship and AAC

A unique approach to mentorship involves pairing two individuals who have complex communication needs. Adults who use AAC serve as mentors to younger, less experienced individuals who also use AAC and Assistive Technologies.

Adult mentors who use AAC can share with youngsters:

  • Effective communication skills and strategies
  • Valuable insights/unique perspectives
  • Specific ways they have overcome barriers to communication and participation
  • Personal experiences using AAC
  • Relevant disability-related information
  • Information on how to find and access important resources

Mentorship Program Description

We referenced The AAC Mentor Project at Penn State University. This project connected adolescents who use AAC with adult mentors who also use AAC via the Internet. The website outlines steps to establishing a mentorship project. We used this as a guide as we set up our own mentorship program.

1. What are the Goals of The Bridge School Mentorship Program

To develop Mentors who have the skills to work in our Self-Determination Program so they can provide their mentees with the necessary tools and supports to become causal agents in their own lives through:

  • Increased self-knowledge
  • Informed decision-making
  • Thoughtful planning/goal setting
  • Persistent action to achieve their goals

2. How do the Mentors and Mentees regularly meet

  • Mentors and their mentees participate in weekly self-determination lessons and activities. They collaborate to set up routines as a group to promote a community of equality and respect. They create a community of learners where everyone is committed to becoming more self-determined, including the mentors, teachers, and other professionals who are members of the group.
  • Mentors and mentees also meet for self-determination sessions using video chatting, which allow students to communicate in real-time with their mentor.
  • In addition, Mentors and Mentees connect regularly via electronic mail.

3. How do we determine the qualifications of Mentors

We select Mentors based on our knowledge of their qualifications as individuals to provide a high level of support to the Mentees. These individuals are known to us either as former students or as participants in other Bridge School programs. They are highly competent AAC users and have experiences that are similar to those of the students they will be mentoring. They have expressed a strong desire and commitment to building and strengthening their skills as Mentors and to serving as role models for younger students using AAC as those students build self-determination skills.

4. How do we train Mentors and provide ongoing support/trouble-shooting

Mentors learn the skills and competencies to provide support, guidance, encouragement, and problem-solving strategies as Mentees: deepen their self-knowledge; learn to express preferences and make decisions about their lives; practice setting short and long-term goals; try out strategies to solve problems; and advocate for themselves.

We provide on-going training to Mentors including:

  • Extensive review of and orientation to the Bridge School Self-Determination Program so Mentors have a very good understanding of the program goals
  • Assistance in planning and preparing activities for Mentees in the areas of self-knowledge, decision-making, goal-setting and formulating a plan to achieve their goals
  • Role-playing with Self-Determination Program staff prior to implementing activities with Mentees - providing interaction strategies and making adjustments to activities as needed
  • Videotaping sessions and de-briefing with Self-Determination Program staff following activities with Mentees - providing strategies and tips to Mentors based on follow-up discussions and videotape review and feedback

5. How do we identify Mentees who would benefit from the program

We selected young students who would be transitioning from our school into a new educational placement in the next year. As a part of the transition planning process, we thought that the mentorship relationship would provide an ideal context for the development of these students' self-determination skills at this transitional time in their education. We felt it would be very beneficial for these students to receive the on-going support from their Mentors as they build the skills to become more self-determined individuals.

6. How do we match Mentors and Mentees

Our unique approach involves pairing two individuals who have complex communication needs.  Adults who use AAC serve as mentors to younger individuals who are developing their use of AAC and Assistive Technologies. Adult mentors who use AAC can share with youngsters:

  • Effective communication skills and strategies
  • Valuable insights/unique perspectives
  • Specific ways they’ve overcome barriers to communication and participation
  • Personal experiences using AAC
  • Relevant disability-related information
  • Information on how to find and access important resources

7. How do we evaluate the effectiveness of our Mentor Program

We use the AIR Self-Determination Assessment, which was developed for students, parents, and educators by The American Institutes for Research (AIR), in collaboration with Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City, and with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

The AIR Self-Determination Assessment:

  • Produces a profile of the student's level of self-determination
  • Identifies areas of strength and areas needing improvement
  • Identifies specific educational goals that can be incorporated into the student's IEP
  • Measures two broad self-determination components:
    1. Capacity, which refers to the student's knowledge, abilities, and perceptions that enable them to be self-determined
    2. Opportunity, which refers to the student's chances to use their knowledge and abilities.

8. How do we make adjustments in the Mentor Program to improve outcomes

Based on information gathered using the Air Self-Determination Assessment, as well as review of videotaped sessions and debriefing and discussions with Mentors, future Self-Determination activities are modified to:

  • Provide Mentors with additional guidance and support in preparing activities for Mentees, including anticipating vocabulary needs and background information
  • Provide Mentors with additional guidance and practice employing effective implementation strategies during activities with Mentees
  • Provide Mentees with additional activities for further review and reinforcement of key concepts
  • Provide Mentees with similar but varied activities for additional skill practice

9. How do we plan for the conclusion of the mentor program at the end of the school year

Mentees and Mentors plan for an end-of-year event at which they share their experience in the Self-Determination and Mentorship Programs with parents, school staff and administrators.

At this event, Mentees:

  • Introduce their mentor
  • Share their goals, the work they’ve done, the progress they’ve made and the next steps they’ll take toward reaching their goals
  • Share their favorite activity during the mentorship program

At this event, Mentor’s:

  • Introduce themselves and share their experience as a Mentor
  • Discuss the impact of the Self-Determination and Mentorship Programs on the growth and development of the Mentees

In addition, we develop a plan for maintaining contact between the Mentors and Mentees as well as establishing resources for follow-up support.