Assessing Social Competence in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Mental Retardation and Typical Development Using a Standardized Playground Observation Checklist

Date of Submission


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)



Department Chair

Robert A. DiThomaso, PhD, ABPP

First Advisor

Lisa Hain, PsyD, Chairperson

Second Advisor

George McCloskey, PhD

Third Advisor

Daniel H Ingram, PsyD


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that causes lifelong disability. The current study examined archival data to assess similarities and differences in social competency among children with ASD, children with mental retardation, and children who are typically developing while at play. Play has been linked to many areas of development including intellectual, social, and emotional growth. Because of this, the playground is an ideal venue in which to observe social competency in children. In this study, the Ingram-Troxell Playground Observation Checklist was utilized to assess the degree to which it could measure those social characteristics of children with autism spectrum disorder. This study also sought to determine significant differences in scores across three pre-identified groups of children (typically developing children, children with mental retardation, and children with autism). As predicted, children with ASD scored significantly lower on the checklist total score than did children with mental retardation and children who were developing typically. These results support the position that individuals with autism spectrum disorder have pervasive deficits in social competence in excess of what would be expected for their mental ages and cognitive abilities. Given the clinical utility of this observation instrument, it behooves educators and psychologists alike to access and utilize this checklist in the evaluation of young children who are exhibiting signs or symptoms of an autism spectrum disorder.

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