• Kelly Mikoda, Speech Language Pathologist 


    Speech and Language Service Information



    Pivotal Response Therapy (PRT) is dervived from applied behavioral analysis (ABA), it is play based and child initiated. Its goal include the development of communication, language and positive social behaviors. Motivation strategies are an important part of the PRT approach. These emphasize 'natural' reinforcement. For example, if a child makes a meaningful attempt to request a stuffed animal, the reward is the stuffed animal- not a sticker or point or other unrelated reward. 

    In our classroom Pivotal Response Therapy is a component of the STAR curriculum and is incorporated into our rotations and snack time activities. Students work on a skill/level that matches their communication needs. We tend to focus on the following skills in this progression: Initial Requesting, Requesting with Phrases, Declining, Declining with Phrases, Initial Commenting, and Answering Questions. 



    Our students tend to learn best using visual supports rather than through auditory input. Seeing it, rather than hearing it, helps them retain and process information. We use a variety of visual supports throughout our classroom to aid in understanding and communication. We have visual schedules to guide the activities of our day, and core vocabulary boards are used at the circle and snack tables, during rotations and during play centers. Visuals are utilized at the coat hooks, light switches, sink and other important locations around our room. Staff incorporate use of these visuals in conjunction with physical and verbal guidance to help students follow directions and participate in activities. 



    Many of our students are emerging verbal communicators and are often communicating their wants, needs or thoughts in other ways. Our team works to identify and use individual communication systems to assist our students in their development of overall communication skills. Here are some examples of communication systems we may use with our students: 

    Picture Exchange Systems: these systems are commonly referred to as PECS. The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a systematic way to teach a child how to communicate WITH someone else. This program is intended to provide an alternative means of communication for a child who is unable to spak with his mouth and is highly effective in helping students learning the communicative function of requesting- a starting point for communication development. It is important to note that PECS is different than use of visual icons to support language as described above. Our classroom typically focuses on the first 3 phases of PECS: 

    Phase 1: How to Communicate: In the first phase of PECS the child will learn that if they hand an adult a picture, they will get what they want in return. This phase is teaching the important aspect that communication is reciprocal and takes place between two (or more) people. 

    Phase 2: Distance and Persistence: In this phase of PECS the child is taught to be more persistent with his communication attempts. Some of the time, the picture will be moved farther away from the child and he will have to go to get it. In other attempts, the picture will be right next to the child but the person who is holding the desired item will start walking away. This child learns that he needs to be persistent to communicate and can't give up. This helps to teach children that they can communicate with anyone and may need to go find the person they need. 

    Phase 3: Picture Discrimination: At this point in the program the child will be given two pictures to choose from on their communication board. The child must find the picture that he wants and give that to the adult. This phase helps to expand what the child can request using this communication system. 

    PECS can provide a beginning level of expression for individuals with complex communication needs. The important thing to rememer is that it is used to initiate conversation and to communicate wants or needs to another person. It is NOT meant to be 'the' system forever but would be more of a stepping stone to the next system. If an individual needs to be taught how powerful communication can be, this is a good introduction. If they are not found to initiate language, this is a good introduction. PECS is mainy a system to make requests. It is a beginning process of teaching communication. It is a good place to start but not a place to stop. 

    In our classroom we use PECS systems with those students that need to develop the foundational communication skill of requesting. These skills are targeted during speech/language rotations, speech/language group and snack time. 


    CORE VOCABULARY COMMUNICATION BOARDS: these communication boards are made up of high frequency words that can be used in a variety of situations. Core vocabulary words are those common words that make up about 80% of the words we say every day. In contrast, fringe words are specific to situations or activities. Fringe words are often easier to teach because you can picture the item in your mind; however, core words are going to be more flexible to use across environments and communication partners. Since we don't just speak using fringe vocabulary, it is imperative that we focus on teaching the core words even though it can be more challenging. Here are some differences between core and fringe vocabulary ... 


    • you cannot say a sentence without using core words
    • you can create a sentence using only core words
    • often more difficult to visualize
    • ususally includes pronouns, helping verbs, prepositions, articles, and common verbs
    • examples: I, he/she, like, play, have, on, open, help, more, can, do, it
    • sentences using only core words: I like to play, I need help, you can do it


    • words that are more specific to a situation- mostly nouns
    • cannot be used across a variety of situations
    • cannot form a sentence with only fridge words
    • can visualize the fringe vocabulary words
    • examples: pig, school, pizza, tv, dinosaur

    Why do we teach core vocabulary? It is important to teach these core words because it allows our students to more readily communicate his/her wants/needs which will decrease frustration. It is easier for the student to touch the icon or say 'more' to request the desired item then learning each noun to name different items. For example, if a student points to/says "more" or 'want it'  people usually can understand the student within the given context which reduces those communication frustrations for the student. 

    In our classroom core boards are at table locations and in the play center areas and are utilized by all staff members. 


    SPEECH GENERATING COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS/DEVICES: these communication systems provide a voice for our students. They are provided to them on an individual basis and can range from the use of a single button, a device that has up to 20 words pre-recorded, to a high tech dedicated communication system. Some examples include BigMack Switches, Go Talk Communication Devices, NovaChat, TouchChat, Accent, and more. 

    In our classroom we will often use simple speech generating communication systems, such as the Go Talk, for individual students. Consideration for more advanced communication systems is done as a team with parents and our District Augmentative/Alternative Communication specialists. 


    *Information gathered from autismspeaks.org, speechandlanguagekids.com, atclassroomblogspot.com, theautismhelper.com


    Here are some links to informative handouts for your reference: 

    Are My Child's Skills Developing Normally? 

    The Importance of Play Based Therapy

    Learning Through Predictable Books

    Joint Attention and Autism

    Can Pictures Help with Autism

    Creating an Autism Sensitive Environment