Pivotal Response Training (PRT): Overview of the 4 Fundamental Skills

Reviewed by:

February 22, 2022

Pivotal Response Training (PRT) is a behavior therapy that uses positive reinforcements and rewards to help individuals learn new skills and form new habits.

PRT is effective in treating various conditions such as autism, depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is a type of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) that provides a range of therapies for children with autism spectrum disorder.

Understanding the basics of PRT

PRT therapy consists of a series of one-on-one sessions and sometimes group sessions. PRT is based on the idea that children with autism have difficulty responding to their environments and may not understand what is expected of them. It seeks to teach children how to respond appropriately by using positive reinforcement and prompting.

This type of intervention is effective in teaching children appropriate responses while also improving their social skills, literacy skills, and overall functioning.

What is involved in PRT sessions?

Positive reinforcement is used in PRT therapy sessions to help children improve sociability development. Therapists consider individual children's requirements and routines when developing Pivotal Response Training. Unstructured interactions are also typical since play therapy targets social skill development. 

Possible lessons include topics such as taking turns, imitating, collaborative attention techniques, and proper peer engagement. For example, if a child verbally expresses a desire for a doll, the toy will be given to them. 

PRT is often play-based to inspire children, and the therapist allows the child to choose what game to play, what to talk about, and what to learn. The tasks are varied, and children are given natural reinforcers relevant to the current scenario, such as asking for a toy and then receiving it.

Each program is personalized to the individual's goals and needs, as well as their daily activities. A typical session consists of six segments with 3-6 sessions per week. 

 As the child progresses, the focus of each session shifts to accommodate increasingly innovative goals and demands.

Four pivotal areas of PRT 

PRT is based on the theory that there are important skills that can substantially impact other areas of development. Mastering these fundamental skills can enable a faster and more efficient learning curve for all other skill sets. 

Instead of focusing on a single behavior, therapists focus on "pivotal" areas of child development:

  • Motivation
  • Response to multiple cues
  • Self-management
  • Initiation of social interactions


Motivation is an important driver of success, happiness, and fulfillment, encouraging people to work hard to achieve their goals and aspirations.  Without motivation, people can experience a lack of energy and low self-esteem.

Pivotal Response Training (PRT) helps people improve their performance. Based on the theory that people are motivated by the task at hand and their own sense of progress,  PRT guides individuals to develop focus on the task at hand and achieve their goals by increasing motivation to goal alignment. As the learner's motivation grows, they complete more activities and achieve greater success.  

The following techniques are used to target motivation:

  • Decision making
  • Task duration 
  • Natural reassurance
  • Positive reinforcement 


Children are trained to start interactions with others during PRT. This increases social connections and spontaneous communications. A child who initiates conversations rapidly gains faster access to reinforcement. Strong initiation skills enable the learner to become more self-sufficient, relying less on others to meet their requirements.

Multiple cues

Cues are different pieces of information that create meanings and help people better understand the world. These can be sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and even touch. The more cues available to an individual, the more complex decision making can become. The ability to process multiple cues and tailor interactions can be an important skill to develop.

In PRT, an example can be the ability to respond to two or more components, such as automobiles and the color blue. Children would be encouraged to recognize the difference between the specific vehicle and the color blue, then combined together to identify a blue automobile. Successful mastery of this skill can lead to greater development of other higher level skills. 

Children that respond to many cues in their environment show more generality in their learning processes and develop more fluidity. They learn to adapt and respond to a wide range of stimuli found in the natural world. Therapists use multiple cues with as many contacts as possible, increasing the number of educational opportunities.


Self-management is an individual’s ability to manage their own personal and professional life with minimal outside help. They often rely on outside sources such as friends or family members for advice on managing their personal life and career goals.  The challenge with this approach is that it relies on other people's opinions, leading to a lack of independent thought and growth.

However, this skill can be achieved through self-awareness, self-control, and self-motivation.

What are the skills that are taught using Pivotal Response Training?

While PRT can be used to teach a variety of skills, it is particularly well suited to the following skill areas:

  • Communication skills
  • Social skills
  • Academic skills
  • Self-management skills

What are the benefits of PRT?

Pivotal Response Training has proven effective for a range of learners. While PRT may not be a suitable option for every learner or skill level, it does have several advantages over other teaching methods. 

Research has shown that PRT can help children to:

  • Experience faster and easier learning
  • Obtain unintended benefits in non-targeted areas
  • Achieve better personality and social development
  • Transfer learnings and abilities to situations where they haven't been trained

Pivotal Response Training can help a child learn to respond appropriately to different social situations. Furthermore, family members are also encouraged to employ PRT approaches regularly in all aspects of the child’s life. 

Songbird incorporates PRT to provide the most impactful in-home ABA therapy service. For better results, we prioritize children and families. To help your child flourish and grow, Songbird therapists create personalized care plans based on your child's abilities, interests, and aspirations.