Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Johnny L. Matson


Recently, the concepts of social competence and social skills have become important aspects of the evolving definitions of mental retardation (Siperstein, 1992). However, few studies have focused on social behavior in adults with severe developmental disabilities, despite the proliferation of research in assessment and training of social skills with other populations. This study examined the psychometric properties of the Matson Evaluation of Social Skills for Individuals with Severe Retardation (MESSIER)--a scale designed to measure social skills in adults with severe developmental disabilities. A reliable and valid measure of social skills for this population would be useful in determining target behaviors for social skills training and in comparing these individuals to a normative population of persons functioning at the same level. The scale would also aid investigations of the relationship between social behavior and many other factors, such as psychopathology, in adults with severe and profound mental retardation. In the presented research, a preliminary evaluation of the test-retest and inter-rater reliability of the MESSIER was conducted. It was determined that the MESSIER has high stability across raters and good stability over time. Next, a mental health professional's sociometric ranking of each subject was compared to the subject's score on the MESSIER to evaluate the validity of this method for assessing social skills. Rankings were found to correlate highly with total MESSIER scores for 80% of raters indicating good support for the convergent validity of the MESSIER. Three hypotheses concerning the impact of demographic variables upon total MESSIER score were tested. Level of mental retardation significantly impacted MESSIER scores, as did DSM diagnosis, when diagnosed subjects were matched with non-diagnosed subjects for level of mental retardation and verbal skills. No significant differences were found between young and older subjects on MESSIER scores. Finally, we examined the effects of inappropriate and appropriate social behavior on the overall judgment of social competence by comparing the relative impact of different factors of the MESSIER on sociometric ranking. Positive social factors were found to correlate more closely with sociometric ranking than negative social factors. Implications of these findings are discussed.