Date of Submission


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)



Department Chair

Robert A. DiTomasso, Ph.D., ABPP

First Advisor

Rosemary Mennuti, Ed.D., Chairperson

Second Advisor

George McCloskey, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Susan D. Mayes, Ph.D.


Prior research in the area of play in children suggests that children's interactions with one another can predict their social competence, their social skill development, and their ability to establish and maintain social relationships. However, most prior research has been carried out in contrived playgroups under adult direction or supervision; few studies have been carried out in naturalistic settings without adult interference. This retrospective, predictive study reviewed archival data to assess similarities and differences in playground interactions between typical children, children with mental retardation, and children with autism spectrum disorder. The study introduced a structured playground observation checklist in order to standardize playground behavior observations. Three groups of children identified as: typical (N=37), children with mental retardation (N=24), and children with autism spectrum disorder (N=20) were studied to determine similarities and differences in social competence and to assess the utility of the playground behavior checklist as part of a comprehensive assessment of autism spectrum disorder. As predicted, the use of a structured playground observation checklist accurately identified differences between and among the three groups studied.