Cygnet Project: Mentoring Scheme for Young People with Autism Spectrum Conditions

Carer and adult with autismProject Area: Mentoring Scheme for Young People with Autism Spectrum Conditions

Lead Researcher: Dr Nicola Martin

Institution: London South Bank University

Status: Funding secured, in set up phase


This two-year pilot study will establish a tailored mentoring scheme, designed with input from people with autism and their carers, and evaluate its effectiveness in improving the mental health and wellbeing of young adults aged 16-24 with Asperger syndrome (AS) or High Functioning Autism (HFA). It aims to identify whether or not mentoring has potential to be an effective intervention for this group.

Likely impact:

Should mentoring prove to be promising as an intervention for this group the aim is to use the findings to stimulate investment in further more in-depth research and development. If not, they will help to prevent wasteful further investment in this area, and allow research to focus on other more promising interventions.

About mentoring: Download What should I expect from mentoring?Mentoring for adults on the autism spectrum [recruitment poster]


Welcome to the Cygnet Mentoring Pilot Project. We will regularly update this page with news about the project, guest blogs and details of conference presentations and publications.

8th July 2015 - Damian Milton spoke at the Research Autism 'Creating an Autism Friendly World' conference about the mentoring scheme. Friends of Research Autism and conference attendees can download the presentation here.

6th August 2015 - Research Assistants Damian Milton and Gemma Dawkins took part in an online Q&A. You can read the transcript here.

What is the project?

A two-year pilot study to:

  • Establish a mentoring scheme designed with input from people on the autism spectrum;
  • Evaluate its effectiveness in improving the wellbeing of young adults on the autism spectrum aged 16-24.

Why are we doing it?

Once thought to be a rare 'disorder', the term autism is now used to encompass a wide spectrum of neurological developmental diversity, said to affect 1 in 100 people (NAS, 2014). Autism refers to differences in neurological development and cognition, affecting the way someone perceives the world and thus their interactions with others.

The National Audit Office's (2009) report Supporting People with Autism through Adulthood highlighted the dearth of services for adults on the spectrum, and the negative impact this has on this group with only 12% in full-time paid employment and 70% with additional mental health problems.

At the 2007 forum 'Successful Futures for Adults with Autism' there was a common feeling amongst participants that existing models of support for adults on the autism spectrum were not helpful.  Many said that they would want a one-one, time-limited, goal-oriented model of support, akin to life coaching or mentoring. 

Various mentoring schemes have been made available in some parts of the UK, yet specialist schemes for people on the autism spectrum are still rare, and research on the topic rarer still. 

How are we doing it?

An advisory board consisting of people on the autism spectrum and people working in relevant specialist services is inputting into the design of a specialist training package for mentors of people on the autism spectrum.

A minimum of 12 mentors will receive this training and be matched with mentees. Mentees and mentors will collaboratively come up with goals for mentoring. Mentoring will then take place for six months. Various measures will be used to assess its effectiveness and gain the views of mentees and mentors on their experiences of participating in the programme.

Who is carrying out the Research?

Lead Researcher: Dr Nicola Martin

Nicola MartinDr. Martin is Principal Lecturer in the Department of Education at London South Bank University, and an Honorary Visiting Fellow at The University of Cambridge working with Professor Simon Baron-Cohen. She was formerly Director of Wellbeing and Disability Services at the London School of Economics (LSE). Prior to this she was a Principal Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University leading the Centre for Disability and Diversity Studies and The Autism Centre.

Nicola has a very strong commitment to disability equality as a human rights issue and important aspect of social justice. She has worked in education with disabled people across the age range continually since 1976, has 4 relevant degrees, a range of specialist qualifications and a string of publications which articulate a social model perspective on disability. Her research interests include inclusive practice in further and higher education, emancipatory work with students who have Asperger syndrome, and disability discrimination in performing arts.

Research Assistant: Damian Milton

Damian Milton BA (Hons), MA, PGCert, Dip (conv), PGCE, Mifl, MBPsS.

Damian is currently studying for a doctorate with the Autism Centre for Educational Research at the University of Birmingham. 

He is a member of the programme board for the Autism Education Trust, and a member of the scientific and advisory committee for Research Autism. Damian also works for the National Autistic Society as Head of Autism Knowledge and Expertise (adults and community). 

He holds a number of academic qualifications in a range of subjects including Sociology, Philosophy, Psychology, Education, and has a number of years of experience as a lecturer in both FE and HE.  Damian's interest in autism began when his son was diagnosed in 2005 as autistic at the age of two.  Damian was also diagnosed with Asperger syndrome in 2009 at the age of thirty-six.

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26 Jul 2016