I/DD Peer Support/Mentoring 101

What is I/DD Peer Support/Mentoring

An I/DD (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) Peer Mentor is an individual with personal experience of I/DD who provides guidance, encouragement, and support to others with similar disabilities. They serve as a role model, sharing successful coping strategies and fostering empowerment and independence in their mentees.

What Peer Mentors Can Do

The role of a Peer Mentor for individuals with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) can be multifaceted and play a role in the empowerment and support of mentees. I/DD Peer Mentors can support mentees through

  • Empowering Through Shared Experience: Peer Mentors use their lived experiences to empower their mentees. By sharing their personal journeys, challenges, and successes, they can offer real-life examples that mentees can relate to. This shared experience is not just about empathy, but it's also a powerful tool for demonstrating that success and progress are possible despite challenges. Mentors with I/DD can particularly resonate with mentees facing similar life situations, thereby fostering a sense of hope and possibility.
  • Guiding and Supporting: Peer Mentors serve as guides and supporters rather than authoritative figures or decision-makers. They can provide advice, help mentees navigate various life challenges, and support them in decision-making processes. This support extends to fostering independent living skills, which is vital for empowering mentees to lead self-sufficient lives. This support could be in multiple forms, such as assisting in developing self-advocacy skills, understanding rights and responsibilities, or navigating complex systems like education, employment, or healthcare.
  • Fostering Independence: One of the primary goals of peer mentoring is to help mentees become more independent. This can involve teaching and encouraging skills that allow individuals to manage their lives more effectively. For instance, mentors might assist with goal-setting, problem-solving strategies, and self-care practices. Fostering independence is especially important as it aligns with the principles of self-determination and empowerment central to supporting individuals with I/DD.
  • Connecting with Resources: Peer Mentors can act as a bridge between mentees and the various resources available. They can help identify and connect mentees with relevant services, programs, or organizations that can support their needs and goals. This role is crucial in our health and human service system, as mentors can guide mentees through the resources provided by organizations such as the North Carolina Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, their Local Management Entity - Managed Care Organization, and local and statewide nonprofit organizations.
  • Building Trust and Connection: Establishing trust and a genuine connection is fundamental to the success of the mentoring relationship. Peer Mentors achieve this through consistent, open, honest communication, genuine care and concern, and maintaining confidentiality. Trust is essential when dealing with sensitive issues or when mentees share personal information. Where mentors and mentees often share similar disabilities or life experiences, this trust and connection can be even more profound, leading to more meaningful and impactful mentoring experiences. The confidentiality agreement is upheld until it becomes necessary to intervene to protect the mentee or others from harm.

Peer Mentors can play a vital role in providing support grounded in empathy, lived experience, and a deep understanding of the mentees' challenges and aspirations. Their involvement can catalyze growth, independence, and self-advocacy among individuals with I/DD.

Example Work Settings & Roles

Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) can play a variety of roles in the health and human services system in North Carolina. As peer mentors, they can contribute significantly in settings where their unique perspectives and experiences are invaluable. Here are 10 example work settings and roles for I/DD peer mentors within this system:

Setting Potential Role for an I/DD Peer Mentor:
Community Health Centers Assist individuals with I/DD in navigating healthcare services, understanding their health needs, and advocating for appropriate care
Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies Help clients with I/DD in developing job skills, finding employment, and adapting to new work environments.
Day Programs for Adults with I/DD Support participants in developing social skills, engaging in recreational activities, and learning new skills for daily living.
Educational Institutions Assist students with I/DD with academic support, social integration, and transition planning for post-education life.
Residential Care Facilities Provide companionship, advocacy, and support to residents, helping them navigate the challenges of communal living.
Independent Living Centers Guide individuals with I/DD in learning how to live independently, manage finances, and access community resources.
Nonprofit Organizations Serving I/DD Engage in advocacy work program development and provide direct support to clients in various programs.
Behavioral Health Services Assist individuals with dual diagnoses (I/DD and mental health conditions) in managing their mental health and accessing appropriate services.
State Government Agencies Work in advisory roles, helping to shape policies and programs that affect individuals with I/DD.
Specialized Support Groups Facilitate or co-facilitate support groups for individuals with I/DD, where they can share experiences, offer support and develop coping strategies.

These roles leverage the lived experience of individuals with I/DD, allowing them to provide peer support that is empathetic, informed, and empowering. They also represent a move towards more inclusive and participatory models of care and support within the health and human services system.