WTF Is Pivotal Response Training?

Have you heard of PRT? Maybe someone mentioned it, noticed it in an article, stumbled across it while reading, and thought, wtf is that? Well, let the bitches explain it to you, SNABA style!

Pivotal Response Training (PRT): Pivotal response training or sometimes referred to as pivotal response treatment, is an intervention that focuses on a variety of pivotal responses in four main areas:
1. Motivation
2. Responding to multiple cues
3. Self-management
4. Initiation of social interactions

The main concept is that things are targeted naturally and the reinforcers provided are the items that the child is naturally seeking out in their environment, not unrelated reinforcers or rewards. By targeting pivotal responses, greater progress can be achieved in other areas other than the targeted area. Responses are shaped, and even approximations or attempts of correct responses are naturally reinforced. PRT is a play-based intervention and is demonstrated in studies to improve pivotal responses across academic levels preschool through middle school with children primarily diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

PRT was developed by Dr. Robert Koegel and Dr. Lynn Kern Koegel at the University of California- Santa Barbara in the 1970s, based on evidence-based practices and the basic principles of ABA. There are 3 levels of PRT certification that can be obtained from the UCSB Koegel Autism Center.

Dr. Robert Koegel and Dr. Lynn Kern Koegel

Dr. Lynn Kern Koegel (left) and Dr. Robert Koegel (right), founders of PRT.

Real World Example
While watching your baby cousin, you follow their lead as they approach some toys, and many ordinary objects like boxes and remotes, and comment and label the items for them. It doesn’t feel like you are teaching them language, but you respond to their babblings and get all excited if it is a close approximation to something that you modeled. This naturalistic approach to language is very similar to what you would see in a PRT session.

Clinical Example
Janet wants to teach a client on her caseload how to appropriately take turns with a peer. She thinks that it would be pretty silly to sit and take turns with an adult because she wants the skill to occur naturally during play with peers. Janet decides to use PRT to teach the pivotal skill. She finds a model peer and teaches the client how to take turns and what to do during the wait times when he doesn’t have the shared item. Once mastered, the client is able to demonstrate turn-taking across a variety of activities, not just games but during art with limited materials, during science activities, and during sports.


Read our article “Teaching While Playing My Favorite Games” to find out our favorite games to play with our clients.

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