My Journey as a Mentor for Individuals with Autism & Special Needs
When I first learned about my autism diagnosis at 11 1/2, I often wished for a role model on the autism spectrum, someone who had navigated a similar path and could offer guidance and understanding. At that time, my awareness of the broader autism community was limited. I wasn’t yet familiar with the influential voices in the field.
Now, as an adult who has navigated many challenges and has established a career as a professional speaker and author, I am privileged to serve as a mentor to many young individuals on the spectrum and others with special needs. Leveraging technology, from Skype to phone calls for those who prefer less direct interaction, I’ve been able to extend my mentoring reach globally for almost the past decade.
One of my mentees was Jadyn. Her mother, Michelle, reached out to me because Jadyn was embarking on an exciting journey as a New York Jets Junior Flight Crew Cheerleader. With two years of experience in a local special needs squad, Jadyn was about to perform in front of 80,000 people at MetLife Stadium during a halftime show. When I heard her story, I was immediately inspired by her courage and determination.
Our first meeting was memorable. Jadyn’s smile was infectious, radiating positivity and touching everyone around her. We continued to meet, supporting each other’s initiatives and participating in community events, including a flag football tournament to raise funds for Special Olympics New Jersey. Throughout these experiences, I had the pleasure of meeting many members of Jadyn’s supportive family.
Despite the communication challenges Jadyn faces, her progress and passion are incredibly inspiring. This is the essence of mentorship for me. It might sound cliché, but the truth is,
I’ve learned immeasurably more from my mentees than I could ever teach.
Whether it’s aiding individuals in understanding their diagnosis, excelling in school, securing employment, pursuing creative projects like writing a book, or even just offering a listening ear as a friend, the mentorship journey is immensely fulfilling.
In my talks with schools and companies, I emphasize the importance of peer mentors. The value of having someone who understands, who can guide and inspire, cannot be overstated. Peer mentors provide a unique support system, offering insights and encouragement from a place of lived experience and empathy.
Being a mentor is not just about providing answers; it’s about walking together on a journey of growth and discovery. It’s about celebrating each step, no matter how small, and recognizing the potential within each individual.
As I continue this work, I am continually reminded of the power of connection, understanding, and the shared human experience. My hope is to carry on this role for many years, fostering a community where everyone feels understood, supported, and empowered to pursue their passions.
Written by Kerry Magro of Kerry’s Autism Journey