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 MODULE: Pivotal Response Training (PRT)

Teaching Key Pivotal Behaviors: Procedures for Implementation

Self-Management to Increase Positive Behaviors

Step 1. Preparing the Self-Management System

The first task in targeting a behavior is to operationally define it by describing it in terms that are specific, observable, and measurable (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 1987). Clearly defining the target behavior makes it easier for adults to “see” the same behavior over time and for other adults to determine whether or not they are observing the same behavior. Thus, team members include a specific criterion for the learner to receive reinforcement. For example, the learner receives a break after staying quiet for two minutes. The criterion of “staying quiet” might be defined as remaining in his desk and engaging himself with a book. Definitions of behaviors that learners should do, as opposed to what they should not do, should be used.

EXAMPLE: Mark will sit in his chair for five minutes during math class.

Before an intervention is put into place, a baseline should be taken to determine how frequently, intensely, and/or for how long (duration) the behavior occurs before the intervention is initiated. This step is important because frequency, intensity, and duration data help team members make decisions about the effectiveness of an intervention. Baseline should include several observations of the target behavior to accurately determine the level at which the child is performing. Baseline samples can be collected by observing the learner in the same environment in which the target behavior occurs.

The next task is to choose a reward that will be motivating for individual learners. Types of rewards include playing with favorite objects or toys, activities or special outings (e.g., going to a favorite store or restaurant), sensory activities (e.g., tickles, hand squeezes, manipulating a squishy ball), and tangible objects (e.g., stickers, food items). Social reinforcement such as praise (“Yes!” or “You did it!”) and actions (e.g., clapping or high-fives) also are very powerful and can be paired with other types of reinforcement (e.g., giving a sticker and verbally praising at the same time). Delayed reinforcement schedules (e.g., earning tokens that can be exchanged for preferred reinforcers later) also can be implemented if they motivate the learner to engage in the target behavior. When appropriate, learners should help determine reinforcers so that they will be more motivated to engage in the target behaviors. Please refer to the token economy systems discussed in the AIM module on reinforcement at www.autisminternetmodules.org developed by The National Professional Development Center on ASD.

The next task is to identify the data collection system that learners and team members will use to record occurrences of successful behavior. Devices such as wrist counters can be helpful when collecting data on frequent behaviors. For example, learners can keep track of their behavior on their wrist counter and record the number of occurrences of a given behavior every few minutes (e.g., intervals up to 5 minutes). Paper-and-pencil systems, with clear charts for tally marks or stickers, are also successful. In addition, kitchen or portable timers, watches, or cell phone alarms can be used to measure time intervals. Learners’ behaviors should be considered given that the goal is independent recording. If appropriate, learners can help identify what method works best.

For sample and blank self-management data collection sheets, please refer to the AIM module on self-management at www.autisminternetmodules.org developed by The National Professional Development Center on ASD.

Step 2. Teaching Self-Management

When teaching self-management to individual learners, the first task is to teach learners how to discriminate between desirable and undesirable behaviors. This should be very specific and in a format that learners understand. For example, if learners do not understand what is and is not expected of them, they will not be able to manage their behavior. Role-playing these behaviors may be helpful.

The next task is to teach the learner how to follow the signal from the timer (if used) and accurately evaluate the interval. If learners behave appropriately, they should record the interval as successful. If learners did not meet the criterion for the target behavior, they should not record the interval as successful.

NOTE: The initial target goal should be slightly lower than the current level of the target behavior in order for the learner to initially experience success. For example, if the learner yells approximately every two minutes in the classroom, the first target may be a minute and a half with a quiet voice.

Finally, learners must be provided with access to the reward they have chosen when they meet the criterion for receiving a reward. To keep motivation high, make sure it is a positive, enjoyable experience. If learners do not respond enthusiastically to the reinforcer/reward, give them the opportunity to choose another reinforcer.

Step 3. Creating Independence

As learners become more successful at managing their behavior, team members increase the amount of time that learners must self-manage the target behavior. For example, if a learner has become very successful at sitting in his chair for five minutes during math class, the next step would be for him to sit for a longer period of time during math class. It is important to do this incrementally and gradually to make sure that the learner continues to experience success

Team members then gradually fade any prompts provided by others by reducing prompt intensity and frequency. Prompt intensity can be systematically faded, such as moving from a verbal prompt (e.g., “Time to mark your sheet.”) to a gestural prompt of pointing to the sheet. Prompts should then be provided less and less frequently. For more detailed information on prompting, please refer to the AIM module on prompting at www.autisminternetmodules.org.

As learners become more successful at managing their behavior, the number of responses needed to receive the reward is increased. For example, if a learner receives a reward every time he sits in his chair in math class, the next step would be for him to receive a reward after he sits for two minutes without getting up. Eventually, the learner would not receive the reward until after class. Again, it is important to ensure a balance between maximizing the learner’s opportunity to progress in performing the target behavior and the learner experiencing success and staying motivated to participate.

The presence of the team member can be faded incrementally as necessary. First, the team members can sit farther away from the learner, engaging in other tasks to decrease the amount of direct attention provided. Then, they can fade out of the environment completely for longer time periods. Learners can also be taught to administer their own rewards (L. K. Koegel, Koegel, Hurley, & Frea, 1992; Stahmer & Schreibman, 1992).

Initially, other team members enter the new environment for a few minutes to initiate the self-management procedures. This may only need to occur in new settings. Then, the presence of the self-management materials alone can provide enough support for the learner to generalize the self-management procedures to a new setting and context (R. L. Koegel et al., 1995).

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