By Ben Carbonaro
This year is my second year working as a mentor and speaker with the I CAN Network; being able to work for an organisation that showcases what people on the Autism Spectrum are capable is very rewarding.
After initially starting as a mentor with the Emerge program in Melbourne’s western suburbs, I’ve commenced a similar role working in a school. There are definitely significant differences when it comes to mentoring in what are two quite different environments.
In the community program, we have participants from different schools and deal directly with parents; we often will have a chat with them after each session about a range of topics including how their child is progressing. When working in a school, we don’t get to have direct contact with parents but what we do have is contact with teachers who in my experience are not only interested in learning more about I CAN but also in participating in some activities themselves!!!
One other major difference is that we need to be more sensitive to the school environment we are in because not all schools have the same rules or culture. For example, I mentor in an Islamic school and we need to make sure that any food we serve is Halal compliant.
The first question I am asked after I say I mentor Autistic children is what that entails. Let me tell you, it can be unpredictable. While we dedicate some time to planning each individual session, there have been quite a few times where we’ve changed the order of activities or content due to time restrictions or because participants have asked to change things up.
Some of the activities that we present include getting to know one another, team building and public speaking, with a view to both helping the mentees learn these skills or strengthening them if they are already developed.
From a work perspective, probably the hardest part of being a mentor is being able to plan a session that is not just easy for us to run but also one that can keep participants engaged. Just because I may find activity on Google, doesn’t always mean that participants will like it and this is particularly evident when working with teenagers.
Working as a mentor with I Can is extremely rewarding because I am able to pass on my experiences associated with being on the Autism Spectrum and act as a positive role model for others.
Ben Carbonaro is loving life as a mentor with the I CAN Network. Want to get involved? Visit our Current Opportunities page and get in touch!