Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counselor Education


Dorothy Breen

Second Committee Member

Annette Nelligan

Third Committee Member

Gary Schilmoeller


Different beliefs exist about the ability of individuals with mental retardation to recognize certain social roles or relationships appropriate for the acquisition of critical skills for successful social development. In particular, a major social skill is conversational proficiency. The purpose of this study was to look at the concept of participation in a peer group as a means to stimulate the successful learning of social skills for individuals with mental retardation. Specifically, the focus of the study was on the assumption that peer groups serve as a conduit for increasing conversational skills among adults with mental retardation.

There were 2 peer groups with 4 and 5 members, respectively. There were 8 females and 1 male in the groups with an age range of 28 to 60 years of age. All group members were Caucasian. Each peer group met once per week for 8 weeks with sessions lasting up to 45 minutes. During these group sessions, the members had the opportunity to socialize in a setting separate from their homes, and discuss topics of interest with their peers.

The principles of applied behavior analysis were used to determine if there was a functional relationship between adults with mental retardation who participated in peer groups and an increase in their conversational interactions. Each session was recorded with a camcorder and independent observers coded specific conversational behaviors postsession. One month after the final session, 1 follow-up session was conducted with each group to test the retention of participants’ conversational skills.

The quantitative findings of the study suggested that participation in the peer groups provided minimal effect in the conversational interactions among participants. However, there were observable instances of positive communications postsession, resulting from unanticipated contact with some members, which suggested some social value to using peer groups for a small number of the participants. Further research should explore possible methods to help with the development of conversational skills among adults with mental retardation as well as to devise a means for the acceptable measurement of these skills.