Pivotal response treatment
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 and Lynn 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.
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. Drs. Lynn and Robert Koegel incorporated ideas from the natural language procedures to develop verbal communication in children with autism. 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 theory (PRT) is based on a belief that autism is a much less severe disorder than originally thought.
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, responsiveness to multiple cues, self-management, and social initiations. 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, task variation, interspersing maintenance tasks, rewarding attempts, mand training, and the use of direct and natural reinforcers. 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, 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.
Simpson (2005) noted that PRT was a scientifically based practice for treating autism. The effectiveness of pivotal response therapies has been proven, but ongoing research of its effects on children with autism is being conducted.
An article published in 2015 from Mohammadzaheri et al. found that PRT can be up to eight times more effective than standard ABA practices for reducing certain behaviors.
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