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 MODULE: Pivotal Response Training (PRT)

The Focus of Intervention

The focus of PRT is to teach learners with ASD certain pivotal behaviors through a set of specific training procedures, which, when learned, will lead to the development of new behaviors (L. K. Koegel & Koegel, 1995; L. K. Koegel et al., 1999; L. K. Koegel, Koegel, Shoshan, & McNerney, 1999). For example, learners who are motivated to participate in a social skills activity are more likely to acquire target behaviors. The most important targets for PRT are to first develop and increase social-communication skills and then to focus on specific play/leisure skills and adaptive functioning (Bryson et al., 2007). These pivotal behaviors are targeted through two key aspects of the intervention:

  • Families are viewed as experts on their children and are essential in setting goals for their children and implementing the intervention. The outcomes of intervention are greatly increased when families are able to continue therapeutic interventions at home in addition to school or through outside services (Lovaas et al., 1973).
  • Intervention should be conducted in all environments, including school, community, and home, with coordination across settings to ensure that the intervention is comprehensive and maximizes opportunities for teaching and learning throughout the learner’s day.

One primary goal of PRT is to promote generalization and maintenance of mastered skills. A successful strategy for addressing this goal is to focus on skill deficits in the natural environment, in as many naturally occurring opportunities as possible, and with multiple intervention partners (National Research Council, 2001). For example, it is much more likely that learners will maintain newly acquired skills such as buttoning and generalize to different types of buttons if they button pajamas at night, coats when going outside, or a doll’s dress during play—all naturally occurring opportunities that take place throughout the daily routine.

PRT can be implemented in any setting and context where (a) the learner has consistent contact with an individual and (b) there are activities or objects that the learner prefers. By targeting empirically identified key pivotal behaviors instead of only focusing on individual behaviors, PRT leads to gains that are sustained and generalized, allowing for broader, widespread effects and the development of other untargeted behavior changes in functioning and responding (Burke & Cerniglia, 1990; L. K. Koegel & Koegel, 1995; Schreibman, 1997). This not only provides more effective intervention, but is a much more efficient way to teach.

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