Special Education ETDs

Publication Date



Statement of the Problem

Staffing, facilities, and programming have been continual problems in institutional care of the mentally retarded. Gesell and I lg (1946) examined the institution in respect to developing the “self” of each resident. This study concluded that the institutional setting limited the resident's development because impromptu situations which build love, affection, and the feeling of belonging in the normal child were not present nor provided for in the institution. Bijou and Baer (1965) described the institutional setting as not being conducive to building affection or appropriate behavior. Staff and time are at a premium in most institutions; therefore attention for appropriate behavior is rarely consistently provided. Affection and appropriate behavior, according to Harris (1969), are developed in normal children through the physical presence, contact, and caressing behavior of their families. Close physical contact is rarely given for long periods of time in an institution.

Without changing the institutional setting significantly, opportunities for the child to develop with proper reinforcement for appropriate behaviors are greatly limited. The opportunity to develop even initial responses to normally pleasurable experiences are limited.

Recently, though, a team of researchers from Florida developed a technique for working with children to develop the normal types of responses to pleasurable experiences, such as holding and caressing. A modification of their technique, "intensive play", was used in this project to parallel Harris's approach and provide the setting needed for the institutional child.


Twelve crib-bound profoundly retarded residents of the Los Lunas Hospital and Training School, Los Lunas, New Mexico were selected for this project. They were selected to represent a broad range of ages, lengths of institutionalization, and physical handicaps. The population chosen included six males and six females.

Three behavior areas were selected for observation. These areas were responsiveness to adults, environmental objects (toys), and peers. Baseline data was collected on each behavior for each participant. A program of modified intensive play was initiated for one hour per day with three residents participating in the program at a time in the location of their usual daily placement in the cottages. No attempt was made to set-up special classes or move the residents for treatment. The program was comprised of four sessions per day and consisted primarily of hugging, holding, rocking, and caressing the participants. Contact with the examiner, toys, and peers were all rewarded with similar social contact.

A reversal was implemented as a verification procedure during the regular Christmas vacation at the institution. Baseline was established after the reversal, and the program was reinstated for a short period.

Data was collected on a daily basis by this researcher who tallied and graphed individual charts.

Results and Conclusions

Positive results were observed for all twelve participants regardless of age, length of institutionalization, or physical handicap. Ages ranged from 4-0 to 26-1 years and lengths of institutionalization ranged from 4. 1 to 96.7% of life span. Handicaps of the participants included varying types and degrees of cerebral palsy, blindness, micro­cephaly, and other disorders.

All the participants responded to the examiner with varying degrees of strength during the baseline period. During the program period, all showed significant improvement. Only four of the participants responded to toys during the baseline period, and after the program period, all participants were responding to varying degrees. During the baseline period, only two participants responded to a peer, but after the program period, all participants were responding in some manner to peers.

Document Type




Degree Name

Special Education

Level of Degree


Department Name

Special Education

First Committee Member (Chair)

Marian Shelton

Second Committee Member

Glenn Van Etten

Third Committee Member

James Samuel Everett