This study examined whether and how an online mentoring social network (SN) assists students with special needs—Intellectual Disabilities (ID) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), in coping with their disabilities and accumulating bonding and bridging types of social capital. The study used a qualitative research paradigm—Netnography to crosscheck observations of the participants' online activities with content analysis of their posts and a network analysis of the participants' interactions with four mentor types – students with disabilities, high-school students, undergraduates and teachers. The findings showed that the online mentoring SN functioned as an assistive technology for students with ID and ASD who actively interacted with other members to accumulate social capital, share information and receive support. The most prevalent categories in the analysis were sharing of personal experiences and interests, and emotion processing, whereas coping with disability and self-introduction were less common. Surprisingly, undergraduate mentors and most of the teachers interacted only within their own groups and not with students. Theoretical and educational implications are discussed.
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