When conducting interviews with Primary Stakeholders that are not clinical professionals, you will find that they do not have predigested and organized data to present to you.  You have to seek out information actively.  Primary Stakeholders will show surprising difficulties remembering everything they wanted to tell you, or they may leave out details that are important.  Non-professionals often aren’t aware that certain details exist, let alone whether or not they are relevant (such as when exploring sensory or developmental factors that are possibly relevant).

Interview Methods for Getting Elaboration and Detail

Through trial and error, we’ve found that there are two interview methods for determining referral concerns.  They include the Thumbnail Sketch and Clock Time methods.

Thumbnail Sketch Method

Tell the Parent, Teacher or Caregiver you want to make a priority list or ‘thumbnail sketch’ of the behaviors in which they need the most help.  You won’t be analyzing them in detail right away, but reassure them that a more detailed analysis will come later.

List the behaviors. Try not to do anything with them at this point.  List as many as they have and note any functional similarities among behaviors (i.e. they seem to be sensory related; power struggles and tantrums, etc.).   This will provide you with a starting point for asking follow-up questions.

Once you’ve made the list, prioritize and consolidate as suggested above.  Then, go into each concern in more detail.

When using this method, it is often better to simply generate referral questions.  As an Assessor, you may not yet have the skill to know what questions to follow up with, and may want to check resources before following up.  You can get the concerns and basic questions regarding the behavior, and then follow up in a week or so after checking your own references.

Time/Sequence Method

This is a mental exercise you do with the Teacher, Mother or primary caregiver.  You take the Interviewee through a period of time mentally.

Interviewing Teachers and Instructional Staff

With a Teacher, you go through the time the Teacher spends with the Student from the beginning of the period(s) to the end.  Most Teachers have a schedule on the wall or in their planning book that can provide the order in which you ask questions.  You say to the Teacher, “I want to go through Sharon’s day – from the time she enters your classroom to the time she leaves – and then I’ll ask how she’s doing in-between periods and in transition from one school setting to another.”

You want the Teacher, along with you, to move towards discovering the discrepancy between to demands of the classroom environment, and the current developmental capacities the Student actually has (including emotional and behavioral capacities as well as cognitive and communicative capacities). Problems result when the Teacher does not realize where this gap is, and does not yet see how this discrepancy is at the root of understanding and doing something about the behavior.

Prepare yourself ahead of time if you are not fluent with classroom variables.

When looking at individual classroom routines, the following aspects factor in to practically all behaviors.

Task Related

Processing and Developmental Demands of the Task
Thinking, Cognitive, Communicative demands required by the task
Specific task approach strategies required for the task
Cognitive, emotional foundations required in order to understanding the task or to participate in instruction
Learning modalities required or featured by the task

Student-Task Related

Any developmental or processing deficits or errors within the Student related to the abilities required by the task (the discrepancy)

Task-related pragmatics

Task acceptance
Task Independence
Task Completion
Task opening and closing routines (gathering and putting away materials)
Task Regulation (how the Student regulates the difficulty of assignments by communicating difficulties and asking for help)

Rule Related Pragmatics

Rule acceptance and responsibility
Rule remembering
Responses to school and classroom (permanent) rules
Responses to spontaneous rules/Following directions
Rule Regulation (how the Student regulates objections or exceptions to rules by communicating and compromising)

Social/Peer Related

Responses to peer social overtures
Initiation of Peer social interaction
Co-regulation of play, conversation or tasks with peers (how the Student manages ongoing behavioral/social transactions with peers in task related or social contexts)
Management of conflicts with peers
Peer selection (types of and influences of peers)


Management of free time
Organization (keeping track of appointments, responsibilities, assignments, progress, etc.)

Interviewing Parents

When interviewing a parent, you think about typical routines that occur at home at different times of the day.  You say to her, “I want to go through Harry’s day – from the time he wakes up in the morning to the time he goes to sleep – and then I’ll ask how he’s doing sleepwise.” Cover the following day in order:

Morning Routines

Morning routines feature a time crunch.  A lot has to be done under the pressure of getting out the door.  You will find that school or work days and weekends can be very different once the pressure of time is taken away.

But it is important what typically happens to families under the pressure of time in the morning.  First, children that are currently performing slowly or as prompt dependent present the most problems in the morning.  Because of their slowness and/or dependence, parents often take over and do things for their children.  Efforts to get the children to do more and to be more efficient are likely to have been frustrating and conflict ridden.

For morning routines, you want to find out how much efforts others have to exert for the Identified Person to perform adequately.  What deficits are there in the abilities of the IP that do not meet the demand (they may be intangible – such as acceptance of responsibility)?  Ask about the relative effort and abilities known in the following typical morning routines:

Morning Toileting and Hygiene Routines
Breakfast (or eating in general)
Getting dressed (or dressing in general)
Transition to school or bus

Afternoon Routines

Afternoon routines have to do with how the IP spends free time.  How do they structure their time?  Who takes responsibility?  What happens when the IP’s time isn’t structured?

How much supervision is required?  Is the amount of supervision needed to keep the IP involved in productive use of time available?  If not, then what is happening?  Is the IP engaging in productive exploration and approaching opportunities to do something meaningful with time in the afternoon?  Or is the IP stagnating in repetition and withdrawal from novelty?

Behavior at afternoon program or activity
Arrival from school or bus
Eating Lunch
Afternoon Play, Study, or Activities

Evening Routines

Evening routines are often about cooperation , especially with eating, bathing, getting ready for bed, and going to bed.  Look for signs that arousal – or more importantly – the ability to de-arouse for sleep is manageable.  Look for frustrations in the tweaching of bedtime preparation skills (e.g., bath, changing, getting things done)

Eating Dinner
Play or Study
Getting to sleep
Staying asleep
Nighttime continence

Weekend Routines/Community Routines

First, you’re checking whether the family can even go anywhere considering the IP’s behavior.  Find out where they can and cannot go comfortably or easily with the IP.  Find out the nature of the restrictions if any.

Riding in the Car/Transitions in and out of the car
Shopping, Toy Stores, Malls, or Arcades
Other people’s homes, Relatives
Large blocks of unstructured time
Involvement with or isolation from peer activities and inclusion