Corey’s Corner – Smart Play!

Brief Parent Training in Pivotal Response Treatment for Preschoolers with Autism

Bryson, S. E., Coolican, J., & Smith, I, M. (2010). Brief parent training in pivotal response treatment for preschoolers with autism. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 51(12), 1321-1330.

Article review written by: Corey Saradarian

In this article it was found that brief parent training in pivotal response treatment (PRT) was strongly correlated with child language development responsivity. The subjects of this study were 8 preschool aged children with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and their parent’s. The parent’s participated in 3, 2 hour training sessions of pivotal response treatment. (For those of our client’s who receive Parent Consultation hours; that’s only 6 hours of training to start improving your child’s everyday functioning!) After the parents’ completion of the training, the parent’s were then able to implement the techniques to increase their child’s functional communication.

Pivotal response treatment (PRT) is a naturalistic technique based on child lead opportunities. This method teaches the parent to engage their child with language development among many other skills, during everyday activities. One can motivate their child to use language by engaging the child during preferred activities.

Results of the study:

The parent goal of the study was for parents to engage their children for verbal response in 75% of opportunities in which 5 out of the 8 parents achieved. All 8 children showed increases in functional communication skills with an average skill increase of 26%!

The study found a strong relation between parent implementation of technique and child skill acquisition and maintenance. During the study follow-up sessions it was found that parent #3, #4, #7, and #8 had decreased how often they used the techniques with their children and as a result a strong relation was found with child skill decrease in children #3, #4, #7, and #8. See the pattern?

Straight Talk

Using Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) is very easy and you may even be using this method without even knowing it! It is when we intentionally utilize this technique with consistent natural reinforcement that we start to see improvement in our children ability to communicate.  This method is one that our team at Footprints utilizes everyday with our clients;  although it may look like we are just playing, each interaction provides so much more.  You may think of it as “Smart Play.” If you happen to be a client of ours, PRT is an aspect of our intervention strategies that we desire to transfer over to you the parent during our Parent Consultation sessions.

Helpful Tips:

Corey Saradarian, Author & BCBA Candidate

Corey Stump, MA, BCBA

  1.  Allow your child to choose a preferred activity or item to play with. (Let’s say I’m pushing my child on a swing, this is my child’s favorite activity.)
  2. Engage with your child as they play. (I push my child on the swing a few times.)
  3. Use this opportunity to prompt language from your child.  (I stop the swing.  I then prompt my child to say or make an attempt to say the word swing by saying “Swing” or “Say Swing”. Depending on your child’s skill level an utterance of the sound “suh”, swuh”, or “swi” may be appropriate for reinforcement).
  4. Immediately reward your child’s correct response. (When my child responds correctly with an utterance of the word swing, or the word swing, I would then immediately push them on the swing along with verbal praise of “Swing!” or “Good saying swing Jimmy!”)

After the child has learned that when he or she uses language they will gain access to preferred activities and items, then the act of emitting a verbal sound or attempt to communicate itself becomes a natural reinforcer. These experiences can then motivate your child to use his or her language! If your child knows he or she will gain access to preferred activities and items when they speak, they are more likely to use their language.  So don’t hesitate because there is not better day to start than today, engage in “Smart Play!”


  • Calendar icon March 26, 2013