The benefits of mentoring for youth have been well documented. Research shows that mentors can help build self-esteem, provide academic guidance, and improve social skills.
For students with learning differences who often struggle in these areas, a positive mentor-mentee relationship is an avenue worth exploring.
How does a mentor relationship work? An individual who has more life experience or skills spends time talking with and offering guidance to someone who might benefit from their know-how. Mentors draw on their past experiences to help students with challenging aspects of their lives such as planning, making decisions, working toward goals, and developing coping and self-advocacy skills.
The mentor relationship gives the mentee a safe place to be heard, and to discuss and work through issues. It also models appropriate social interaction—knowledge that the mentee may find useful for other social situations.
Mentoring and Learning Differences
Since students with learning differences often need to develop coping strategies for academic, social, and emotional challenges, having a mentor can help them get on track and stay on track. It can also make them feel more grounded as well as reassure them that they are making good decisions and approaching their goals thoughtfully.
Part of being a mentor involves helping a student identify areas that might need further strengthening and suggesting ways to approach that task. A mentor might also help put a concern in perspective, perhaps demonstrating that a perceived problem may not be as significant as the mentee thinks.
Many colleges have acknowledged the important role that mentoring plays in students’ success, particularly when they are transitioning to college life. Peer mentor programs have sprung up all across the country for freshmen who are still becoming acclimated. Typically, upperclassmen act as mentors to guide them through a variety of academic and social situations. Having just navigated the same tasks, they are in a good position to help less experienced students problem solve and feel less overwhelmed in what may be the most significant transition in their lives to date.
Families of college-bound students with LD would be wise to seek out colleges that have mentor programs. Additionally, organizations such as Eye to Eye match successful college students who have learning differences with their younger counterparts. Overall, mentoring can be a critical ingredient to a student’s success.
Are there benefits for students with LD acting as mentors for others? Absolutely!
Being a mentor can help these students gain insight into their own learning issues, which in turn can help them communicate their needs to professors and other support people. Not only can this impact their performance positively, but it can also lead to improved self-confidence.
Mentoring can help not only the mentee, but the mentor gain valuable perspective on their own issues. When working with a mentee, a mentor may be able to reflect back on having been in a similar position and having to use their problem-solving skills for a similar purpose. The mentor may be able to see that in hindsight, they have developed skills and strategies that help them navigate various issues in their lives and that they can share that knowledge with their mentee. As for the mentee, having a role model can provide a significant amount of motivation to get through what might be a challenging time.
Dr. Michelle Berg is a clinical psychologist who specializes in educational advising and placement of students with learning differences. She is a member of the Smart Kids Professional Advisory Board and the National Association of College Admission Counseling.