Pivotal response treatment

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Pivotal response treatment (PRT), also referred to as pivotal response training, is a naturalistic form of applied behavior analysis used as an early intervention for children with autism that was pioneered by Robert Koegel and Lynn Kern Koegel. PRT advocates contend that behavior hinges on "pivotal" behavioral skills—motivation and the ability to respond to multiple cues—and that development of these skills will result in collateral behavioral improvements. In 2005, Richard Simpson of the University of Kansas identified pivotal response treatment as one of the four scientifically based treatments for autism.[1]


Initial attempts to treat autism were mostly unsuccessful and in the 1960s researchers began to focus on behavioral intervention therapies. Though these interventions enjoyed a degree of success, limitations included long hours needed for thousands of trials and limited generalization to new environments. Lynn and Robert Koegel incorporated ideas from the natural language procedures to develop verbal communication in children with autism.[2] They theorized that, if effort was focused on certain pivotal responses, intervention would be more successful and efficient. As they saw it, developing these pivotal behaviors would result in widespread improvement in other areas.

Pivotal response treatment is based on a belief that autism is a much less severe disorder than originally thought.[citation needed]


Pivotal response treatment is a naturalistic intervention model derived from the principles of applied behavior analysis. Rather than target individual behaviors one at a time, PRT targets pivotal areas of a child's development such as motivation,[3] responsiveness to multiple cues,[4] self-management, and social initiations.[5] By targeting these critical areas, PRT results in widespread, collateral improvements in other social, communicative, and behavioral areas that are not specifically targeted.

The underlying motivational strategies of PRT are incorporated throughout intervention as often as possible, and they include child choice,[6] task variation,[7] interspersing maintenance tasks, rewarding attempts,[8] mand training, and the use of direct and natural reinforcers.[9] The child plays a crucial role in determining the activities and objects that will be used in the PRT exchange. Intentful attempts at the target behavior are rewarded with a natural reinforcer (e.g., if a child attempts to request for a stuffed animal, the child receives the animal, not a piece of candy or other unrelated reinforcer). Pivotal response treatment is used to teach language, decrease disruptive/self-stimulatory behaviors, and increase social, communication, and academic skills.

The two primary pivotal areas of pivotal response therapy are motivation and self-initiated activities. Three others are self-management,[10] empathy, and the ability to respond to multiple signals, or cues. Play environments are used to teach pivotal skills, such as turn-taking, communication, and language. This training is child-directed: the child makes choices that direct the therapy. Emphasis is also placed upon the role of parents as primary intervention agents.


An article published by Koegel and colleagues in 2015[11] claims that PRT can be up to eight times more effective than standard ABA practices for reducing certain behaviors.

A meta analysis by a team of researchers from Norway published in 2020 concluded that while a statistically significant effect of PRT on expressive language skills could be seen, the "overall certainty of evidence" was of low quality and did not allow the researchers to draw "firm conclusions" about the effectiveness of PRT.[12]


  1. ^ Simpson RL (2005). "Evidence-based practices and students with autism spectrum disorders". Focus Autism Other Dev Disabl. 20 (3): 140–9. doi:10.1177/10883576050200030201.
  2. ^ Koegel RL, O'Dell MC, Koegel LK (1987). "A natural language teaching paradigm for nonverbal autistic children". Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 17 (2): 187–200. doi:10.1007/BF01495055. PMID 3610995.
  3. ^ Koegel RL, Egel AL (1979). "Motivating autistic Children". Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 88 (4): 418–426. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.88.4.418. PMID 479464.
  4. ^ Schreibman L, Charlop MH, Koegel RL (1982). "Teaching autistic children to use extra stimulus prompts". Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 33 (3): 475–491. doi:10.1016/0022-0965(82)90060-1. PMID 7097156.
  5. ^ Koegel LK, Camarata S, Valdez-Menchaca M, Koegel RL (1998). "Generalization of question asking in children with autism". American Journal on Mental Retardation. 102 (4): 346–357. doi:10.1352/0895-8017(1998)102<0346:SGOQBC>2.0.CO;2. ISSN 0895-8017. PMID 9475943. Retrieved 2008-07-18.
  6. ^ Koegel RL, Dyer K, Bell LK (1987). "The influence of child-preferred activities on autistic children's social behavior". Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 20 (3): 243–252. doi:10.1901/jaba.1987.20-243. PMC 1286014. PMID 3667475.
  7. ^ Dunlap G, Koegel RL (1980). "Motivating autistic children through stimulus variation". Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 13 (4): 619–627. doi:10.1901/jaba.1980.13-619. PMC 1308168. PMID 7204282.
  8. ^ Koegel RL, O'Dell MC, Dunlap G (1988). "Producing speech use in nonverbal autistic children by reinforcing attempts". Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 18 (4): 525–538. doi:10.1007/BF02211871. PMID 3215880.
  9. ^ Williams JA, Koegel RL, Egel AL (1981). "Response-reinforcer relationships and improved learning in autistic children". Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 14 (1): 53–60. doi:10.1901/jaba.1981.14-53. PMC 1308185. PMID 7216932.
  10. ^ Koegel RL, Koegel LK (1990). "Extended reductions in stereotypic behavior of students with autism through a self-management treatment package". Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 23 (1): 119–127. doi:10.1901/jaba.1990.23-119. PMC 1286216. PMID 2335483.
  11. ^ Mohammadzaheri, Fereshteh; Koegel, Lynn Kern; Rezaei, Mohammad; Bakhshi, Enayatolah (2015-09-01). "A Randomized Clinical Trial Comparison Between Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) and Adult-Driven Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Intervention on Disruptive Behaviors in Public School Children with Autism". Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 45 (9): 2899–2907. doi:10.1007/s10803-015-2451-4. ISSN 1573-3432. PMC 4554985. PMID 25953148.
  12. ^ Ona, Hanne Nordvik; Larsen, Kenneth; Nordheim, Lena Victoria; Brurberg, Kjetil Gundro (2020). "Effects of Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD): a Systematic Review". Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 7 (1): 78–90. doi:10.1007/s40489-019-00180-z.

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