By Nicola Wemyss
Created by people on the Autism Spectrum, the I CAN Network is working at a grassroots level with both the Autistic and the non-Autistic community to “change the way we think about Autism” (Varney 2013). Since its conception, the organization has engaged with schools, businesses, universities, and the wider community to achieve this aim. My evaluation focused on the pilot mentoring program that has been delivered by I CAN at Marymede Catholic College over the last year to provide mentors to young people (Year 7-10) with Autism. Data for the evaluation was collected from participants, mentors and teachers through focus groups and interviews.
It was clear from findings that the program is having a largely positive effect on participants. Whilst the initial reason for joining the program was due to external pressures (i.e. teachers and parents encouragement), students remained in the program for a range of reasons. Mainly it was the social interaction, sense of belonging, and having an opportunity to be themselves that ensured continued participation in the program. However, it was also noted that the intergenerational connection and having a platform to learn more about Autism were also key for students staying involved.
The findings show that there were a variety of positive effects that came with attending the program. Again, social belonging, peer to peer connection and intergenerational connection were highlighted as key benefits. It was also noted across the respondent groups that the program had helped students shift their perceptions on Autism. However, the most widely acknowledged positive outcome of the program was its ability to give students a safe space in which they could feel comfortable to be themselves. [Read More]