Pivotal Response Training Can Help Your Child's Development
Friday, 04 September 2020

 One of the main challenges in the developmental stages of children with autism is learning new skills. 

Drs. Robert and Lynn Koegel developed a treatment called pivotal response training (PRT), or pivotal response treatment, where it is a child-led intervention that optimizes positive direct and natural reinforcements, together with a rewards conditioning behaviour. The approach of PRT focuses on honing pivotal areas such as motivation, social initiations, responsiveness to multiple cues, and self-management. These four areas play a vital role in a child’s development. Working on these pivotal areas opens doors to learning a great variety of skills.

Drs. Robert and Lynn Koegel specified the main goals of pivotal treatment to be language development, decrease in disruptive/self-stimulatory behaviours, and improvement in social communication and academic skills. PRT is believed to achieve these goals through the four pivotal areas, and here’s how:


Developmental challenges like autism can cause a child to lack interest in the usual activities and explorations of other children who are neurotypicals. More so, as a child experience struggles in communication and education, he/she will not have any initiative to seek opportunities for learning and of having social interactions. Working on increasing a child’s motivation can address all aforementioned predicaments as a motivated child will feel more encouraged to explore ideas and be more participative in social and academic settings. Therapies under PRT on motivation are done through the use of specific antecedents and consequences that motivate a child to perform skills and create meaningful interactions and experiences.


Initiation starts from having the desire to explore the world, and this may come in simply teaching a child to ask what, who, where, when, and why. In PRT, one of its focuses is to help a child with autism freely express his/her curiosity, thus leading him/her to engage in learning experiences. An important part of developing a child’s initiation skills is also teaching a child to inform adults or authority in alarming events. All this starts with improving a child’s expressive skills that will aid him/her in initiating conversations.

Responsivity to Multiple Cues

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder have tendencies to focus on only one thing and disregard other parts of the bigger picture like for a series of instructions. A child may be able to follow the first step and ignore the next ones. This is observed as over-selectivity and also the inability to respond to multiple cues. Improving a child’s responsivity can help him/her to understand different situations in social and academic interactions. Given this understanding and also awareness, a child gains more confidence to initiate and participate in conversations and activities.


Autism Spectrum Disorder causes children to struggle with emotional responses and triggers, overstimulation, and sensory dysregulation. Self-management may be harder to develop than the other pivotal areas. Even so, self-regulation skills must be instilled in children with autism spectrum disorders. These skills aid a child in managing his/her emotions. Self-regulation also allows children to understand and identify their own needs, triggers, or stressors, thus giving them a sense of independence, leading them to self-soothing techniques, and guiding them to having a better grasp of their own feelings and thoughts.
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