Special Education ETDs

Publication Date



The importance of an operantly structured eye contact program for the severely emotionally disturbed, trainable mentally handicapped, and profoundly mentally handicapped has been overlooked by researchers and teachers alike. Intensive literature searches reap but a handful of related material, of which only a few provide a viable means of teaching eye contact skills. One question that has been repeatedly neglected by researchers, and epeciall teachers, is “why” teach eye contact. The basic need of eye contact in communication is known to all of us. It must be realized that in most instances the young trainable mentally handicapped student requires eye contact instruction of some type if he is to master the skill. The consequences of this student not learning to use eye contact when needed is devastating. This thesis will explore how to operantly teach the skill, what constitutes when the skill is learned, and why teach the skill. Also included are examples of the usage of eye contact in learning, social interaction, generalization, and in behavioral control. The subjects of the study were eight young trainable mentally handicapped students. All eight were enrolled in a low ability, behavioral management classroom designed to eliminate unacceptable behaviors and expand appropriate ones. Observational data was kept on each student’s progress in eye contact, paired with comments and discussions concerning individual improvements or failures in eye contact related areas. A general discussion section provides a comprehensive observation of the study’s effect upon the individual student and class as a whole. Concluding results of the usage of a systematic approach in teaching eye contact overwhelmingly project its need. Perhaps the most demanding aspect of such a program is its method of specifying behaviors. This requires well established programming and close observation of program procedures. The expansion of learned eye contact skills to other areas also demands such attention, if successful.

Document Type




Degree Name

Special Education

Level of Degree


Department Name

Special Education

First Committee Member (Chair)

Glenn Van Etten

Second Committee Member

Roger Lee Kroth

Third Committee Member

Henry James Pepe