May 4, 2010
Ted is an 8-year-old male currently enrolled in the 2nd grade at Wright Elementary
School. Ted first came to the attention of Ms. Roberds when she was asked to conduct an
evaluation of Ted to see if he qualified for special education services for autism. The evaluation
file was given to Ms. Roberds by Dr. Daisy, the school psychologist at Wright Elementary
School. At the case conference it was decided that Ted met requirements for special education
services for autism, and that he should recieve social skills training. The case conference
committee decided that social skills training could be carried out five days a week every three
weeks for a period of 30 minutes each session. This time was chosen because it was during the
time that Ted had music class, and as Ted experienced sensory discomfort in music class, he was
only required to stay for the first 15 minutes. Ms. Roberds offered to organize the social skills
training for Ted.
Ted’s 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Peabody, reported that Ted had significant difficulty in
social interaction with other students in his class and grade. Mrs. Peabody reported that Ted
struggled to appropriately approach other students, initiate conversations, and maintain
conversations. Specifically, she reported that Ted frequently failed to make eye contact, come
close enough to other students, or speak loudly enough to other students. As such, other students
frequently did not understand or notice that Ted was trying to talk to them, and often did not
respond to him. The behaviors reported by Mrs. Peabody, in addition to the observation that Ted
tended to discuss only a few topics of interest to him, were confirmed by Ms. Roberds when she
observed Ted in his classroom and during gym class.
Given the concerns presented by Mrs. Peabody and the observations made by Ms.
Roberds, the goal of the intervention was to increase the frequency of successful social
interactions Ted had with his second grade classmates. Specifically, the goal of the intervention
was to increase the frequency of successful social initiations. Within this intervention,
successful social initiations were defined as instances in which Ted approached a classmate or
otherwise got the attention of a classmate (such as a tap on the shoulder) and said something to
which the classmate responded in some way (including non-verbal responses such as nodding
yes or no, shrugging of the shoulders, or giving a thumbs up). A non-example of this behavior
would be a verbal statement directed at a classmate that was not acknowledged by that classmate
in any way. Another non-example of this behavior would be when Ted approached his teacher
or another school staff member and initiated conversation. Lastly, a non-example of this
behavior would be if Ted verbally or non-verbally responded to another student’s initiation of
Problem Analysis and Problem Validation
According to data obtained during Ted’s evaluation, Ted experienced slight
developmental delay, and received occupational, physical, and speech therapy beginning at age
18 months and ending at age 3 years. Ted was diagnosed with ADHD in kindergarten and takes
Ritalin 15mg three times a day. Ted currently sees a psychiatrist for ADHD and psychiatric
services. Ted does not have any apparent vision or hearing difficulties. Ted used a touch board
to communicate until age 3 years and has a history of unusual responses to sensory experiences
such as a dislike of water, swinging, being dirty, and certain food textures and smells. According
to his mother, Ted’s sensitivity to certain foods and substances, as well as loud noise, is still
severe. She described specific behaviors of concern to her as arm flapping while jumping,
spatial difficulty, sensory sensitivity, obsession, and impulsiveness. Ted has a history of being
obsessed with lights, fans, and numbers. Ted’s mother reported that he is extremely interested in
cars and videogames. She described Ted as obsessive, easily distracted, impulsive, and socially
awkward. She reported that Ted has difficulties such as arguments and power struggles with
both adults and other children.
Cognitively, Ted had a profile of strengths and weaknesses that suggested Borderline to
High Average intellectual abilities with specific difficulties in perceptual reasoning and verbal
comprehension and specific strengths in processing speed and working memory. Ted appeared
to have specific difficulty reasoning about abstract or unfamiliar concepts. His Average to
Superior academic achievement in the areas of Oral Language, Reading, Written Language and
Mathematics were higher than expected given Borderline to Low Average Perceptual Reasoning
and Verbal Comprehension. Academically, Ted has received mainly A’s since kindergarten and
participates in an advanced reading group. The school reported no academic concerns.
As stated previously, the behaviors reported as of concern by Mrs. Peabody were
confirmed by Ms. Roberds when she observed Ted in his classroom during a language arts
period. During this class period, students were expected to complete a series of activities,
including finding a partner and playing a game with that partner. During this time, Ted
approached students on multiple occasions and attempted to ask them to be his partner. On all
five occasions, Ted failed to gain the attention of the other students; he spoke too softly to be
heard, did not make eye contact, and did not physically approach them close enough to be
noticed. Only when a classmate approached Ted was he able to find a partner. Within the
context of the structured game, Ted was able to respond appropriately, but did not engage in
conversation. Ted was also observed to struggle in the ways described by Mrs. Peabody when he
was observed during gym class. On four occasions Ted attempted to converse with other
students and did not receive a response. In addition to the concerns described by Mrs. Peabody,
during the course of the evaluation and during testing, Ms. Roberds observed that when Ted was
one-on-one, he did manage to be engaged in conversation with her, but strongly preferred to talk
about specific topics that were of interest to him, such as a specific cartoon television show and
specific video games. Overall, it appeared as though Ted struggled the most with initiating
conversation successfully with other students, and that this one skill deficit was what was
negatively impacting his social experiences most of all. Observation of random peers revealed
no instances in which other children in Ted’s classroom attempted to initiate conversation with
other students unsuccessfully. Clearly, a discrepancy was evident between Ted’s social approach
skills and those of his peers.
Baseline data was collected by Ms. Roberds on three occasions, over the course of two
weeks. More observations were planned within this two week period, but were unable to be
completed. Ms. Roberds chose to observe Ted in the lunchroom because it was an uninterrupted
period of time during which he was free to converse with classmates, that took place while Ms.
Roberds was at Wright Elementary (for example, due to scheduling, recess was not an option).
However, this plan was complicated by the fact that following the third observation, Ted was
required by school staff to eat alone at a desk in the hallway. As such, only three data points
make up the baseline. While Ms. Roberds would have preferred to collect additional baseline
data, the three data points suggest a fairly stable range of behavior.
At each observation session, Ms. Roberds recorded the frequency of Ted’s successful
social initiations for 15 minutes during lunch. Ms. Roberds made a tally mark every time Ted
attempted to initiate a conversation and the attempted initiation was successful. During the
baseline period, during 15 minutes of lunch, Ted successfully initiated an average of 0.33 times.
Overall the data indicate that Ted successfully initiated conversations zero to one times per 15
minute period. This baseline data is displayed in the following graph.
Baseline - Successful Initiation of
Conversation during 15 minutes of Lunch
1 2 3
Given that Ted’s poor social behavior appeared to be negatively impacting the frequency
and quality of his peer interactions, it was hoped that considerable improvement might occur if
he were taught social skills relating to conversation initiation in a concrete way. After consulting
the book Building Social Relationships: A Systematic Approach to Teaching Social Interaction
Skills to Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Social Difficulties
(Bellini, 2006), which emphasized dynamic, individuated goal setting based on understanding of
the child’s abilities through observation, Ms. Roberds decided to set a goal of two successful
social initiations during fifteen minutes of lunch (one more than his very best day of baseline,
which would double the number of his highest day of baseline). This goal was set with the
understanding that Ted would remain unaware of any specific goal, other that he was being
encouraged to converse with his classmates more frequently, and with the understanding that any
improvement in Ted’s successful initiations with his peers over the nine weeks would be
celebrated by school staff.
Baseline and Goal Setting of Successful
Initiation of Conversation during 15 minutes
Base. Ob. 1 Base. Ob. 2 Base.Ob. 3 Goal Wk 1 Goal Wk 9
The intervention chosen for Ted was based on recommendations from Building Social
Relationships: A Systematic Approach to Teaching Social Interaction Skills to Children and
Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Social Difficulties (Bellini, 2006).
During each session, Ted and the BSU student would play a short word association game as a
warm up, during which time they took turns saying the first word that came to their minds,
followed by an activity in which the BSU student and Ted would take turns asking each other
questions about common topics such as family, pets, foods, and hobbies. Ted and the BSU
student would then create a “conversation map”, which plans in detail a conversation that might
be had with one of Ted’s classmates. Ted was asked to consider who he wanted to talk to, how
and when he would approach them, what he might say to start the conversation, how the other
student might respond, and how Ted would respond, and so on. At each level of the
conversation planning, Ted was asked to come up with at least three possibilities of what he
might say and what his classmate might say in response. At the end of the session, if there was
time, the BSU student read Ted a social story that they had written that related to approaching
others to talk to them in a school setting, such as the lunchroom, recess, during group work, or
free time. Necessarily, this intervention was somewhat fluid, as the BSU student responded to
Ted’s difficulties and offered encouragement and suggestion based on the specific topic at hand.
Ted did not receive any reward for his participation in the intervention. He was generally
happy to participate, with the understanding that the alternative was to return to music class,
which he did not enjoy. Ted was unaware that he was being observed in the lunch room. The
data obtained from these observations were used to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention.
The materials utilized in this intervention included paper and pencils for conversation
mapping, as well as social stories related to social initiation in a school setting, which were
written by BSU students. The intervention plan, including the word association, conversation
game, conversation mapping, and social stories, came from Building Social Relationships: A
Systematic Approach to Teaching Social Interaction Skills to Children and Adolescents with
Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Social Difficulties (Bellini, 2006), which was used in the
Time and Location
This intervention took place at Wright Elementary School in the conference room and the
library – whichever was available. The intervention was conducted every three weeks, during
the last 30 minutes of music time, for all five days of that week, over the course of nine weeks.
Ted’s class only had music class every three weeks.
Ms. Roberds was primarily responsible for this intervention. This responsibility included
organizing three other BSU school psychology students who aided in the implementation of this
intervention. Ms. Roberds conducted regular observations of Ted in the lunchroom and was
solely responsible for progress monitoring, charting, and analyzing the data collected. Treatment
integrity was assessed through interview of other BSU students and was reported to be generally
good, though BSU students reported rarely having time to read the social story. Due to
confusion with BSU student scheduling, Ted missed the intervention on two occasions. Likely
due to Ted being excessively tired on one occasion, Ted refused to participate in the intervention
and put his head down on the table.
Ted was observed by Ms. Roberds during his lunch period in the lunchroom for periods
of fifteen minutes each time. During these observations, Ms. Roberds tallied the number of
times that Ted successfully initiated conversation, based on the behavioral definition, with a
classmate. This time period was selected due to the unrestricted and social nature of lunch. Ted
was to be observed once a week on Mondays, the day that Ms. Roberds was generally at Wright
Decision-Making Plan and Progress Monitoring
Including baseline data, there were a total of seven data points spanned 9 weeks. This
data was graphed and analyzed by Ms. Roberds as it became available and was compared to the
initial goal. Ted’s progress throughout progress monitoring suggested that he was on track to
reach the goal of two successful social initiations during fifteen minutes of lunch and as such the
intervention was not modified at any time. The following graph illustrates Ted’s progress.
Progress Monitoring - Successful Initiation of
Conversation during 15 minutes of Lunch
Obervation 1 Observation 2 Observation 3 Observation 4
The data obtained from this intervention process may be used by school staff to guide
additional social skills training.
The graph below represents the overall results of this intervention.
Successful Initiation of Conversation
As the intervention phase has just been terminated due to the end of the BSU semester,
no post-intervention data is yet available. Evaluation of the existing data suggests that the
intervention was effective. Ted met, and on one occasion exceeded, the goal of two successful
initiations. The increase and fairly consistent data following the introduction of intervention may
suggest that this intervention introduced basic social “rules” that Ted lacked, but that he readily
learned and could apply given direct instruction and practice. Feedback from adults who know
Ted at Wright Elementary School indicated that they felt over the course of the intervention he
improved significantly in his conversation initiation skills, made better eye contact, and did a
better job at engaging others and maintaining conversation. Such feedback supports the
conclusion that this intervention was effective, even at a wider level. Social skills training with
Ted will necessarily be ongoing, but responsibility for future intervention has been transferred to
Wright Elementary School staff.
Bellini, S. (2006). Building Social Relationships: A Systematic Approach to Teaching Social
Interaction Skills to Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders and
Other Social Difficulties. Autism Asperger Publishing Company: Shawnee Mission, KS.