A Framework for Specialist (Autism) Mentoring in UK Higher Education.

Irvine, Brian ORCID: 0000-0002-9515-8032 (2023). A Framework for Specialist (Autism) Mentoring in UK Higher Education. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Universities in the UK have seen a remarkable increase in the number of autistic students. These students can receive funded Specialist (Autism) Mentoring to “remove barriers to learning”. A thematic analysis of 264 papers in a systematic review of the autistic experience of higher education, revealed barriers, challenges, and cultures of success that autistic students encounter. Only six papers addressed Specialist (Autism) Mentoring. It is reported to be a valued support, but academic reflection on the profession is scant. This thesis seeks to widen this lacuna through the development of a framework for practitioners by considering, not only the prevalence of mentoring as a support, but by developing grounded theory that may suggest what makes such support effective.

A mixed method iterative project contextualised Specialist (Autism) Mentoring within university contexts, before turning to the more substantial element of developing grounded theory from analysis of diaries, interviews and forums from mentees and mentors.

A Freedom of Information request was made to Student Finance England, UK universities were surveyed for provision data via their Disability Offices. 1:240 UK students are in receipt of Specialist (Autism) Mentoring, but this is only 55% of autistic students. This is provided for by around 660 mentors, with a yearly turnover of 10%. Paucity of centralised data lends these numbers a wide margin of error.

A participatory paradigm was developed in which questions posed by fourteen mentees as autistic hypothesisers became the keystone of the guided diaries that were solicited from mentors at reading weeks and end of terms. Twenty-eight mentors, of whom ten themselves were autistic, kept diaries over the academic year 2020/21. 116 diary entries were gathered over four tranches. Diaries were thematically analysed. Analysis was critiqued and refined both through online interviews with mentees and by an autistic majority forum of master mentors. Autistic and allied mentors reported very similar experiences.

The phenomenon of Specialist (Autism) Mentoring was described as a holistic, backstage negotiation. A process of framing and reframing was identified as a key pillar of mentoring autistic students. This process can be considered through three interleaved domains. The mentoring process permitted students to diagnostically consider structural barriers and challenges. The mentee and mentor together consider the outplay of these structures to develop strategies to ameliorate limitations and promote flourishing university encounters. Finally, the mentor has a particular role in gently encouraging students through being a trusted and steadfast authority.

These elements of diagnostic framing, prognostic framing, and motivational framing positions in Specialist (Autism) Mentoring are akin to the frame alignment of social movements. Whilst a neurodiverse paradigm was evident in the autistic majority master mentor forums, mentoring with this model can be adapted to future emancipatory movements. It is posited that the nurturing of advocacy in autistic students challenges the idea of mentoring as inducting into an institutional culture; mentees are being equipped to better the intuitions where they belong.

The Framework for Reframing (p.iii) proposed asks mentors to reflect on five areas: The knowledge and understanding of diverse student experience. Operationalising the mentoring role. The craft of framing and reframing in the three domains; diagnostic mentoring in which students lead in questioning social structures both on campus and beyond; prognostic mentoring in which mentee and mentor develop strategies not simply for surviving, but flourishing; and motivational mentoring, in which the mentor provides gentle affirmation and encouragement throughout mentees’ time at university.
Whilst this novel framework was developed for mentoring autistic students, it is suggested that such a schema would have value - as an outworking of autism gain - for mentoring in multiple other educational contacts, and perhaps beyond.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
MacLeod, AndreaUNSPECIFIEDorcid.org/0000-0001-8899-932X
Guldberg, KarenUNSPECIFIEDorcid.org/0000-0001-5991-4649
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: Education
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
L Education > LC Special aspects of education
L Education > LC Special aspects of education > LC5201 Education extension. Adult education. Continuing education
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/13500


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