The California Department of Rehabilitation contracted an initial $300,000 worth of contracts and grants to UCSB’s Koegel Autism Center to support their work in Pivotal Response Treatment and preparing students with Autism Spectrum Disorder for the workplace.
Since UCSB graduate student Bob Koegel developed PRT in 1971, it has become one of the most primarily used and widely recognized treatments for individuals with ASD. The DOR plans to award more money throughout the years in order to promote equal opportunities for individuals with ASD as well as student skills in attainment and retention of jobs.
According to Koegel, many college students in the program are selected for interviews when applying for jobs, and it is important that they are taught how to conduct themselves during these types of situations.
“With young or [elementary] school-age kids, we focus on social behavior: training of staff, parent training, sibling training,” Koegel said. “As they get older and ready to enter the workforce, we teach them organizational skills as well, like how to arrive on time, not just when they want to.”
Koegel said PRT teaches people simple points of inter- view etiquette — making eye contact, smiling and asking good questions — as well as overall professionally accept- able behavior. PRT works by targeting specific areas of child behavior like motivation and learned helplessness.
Gevirtz Graduate School of Education Dean Jane Close Conoley said the money will support the acquisition of additional staff members specializing in the treatment of individual patients, advancing ASD patients’ reactions within social situations as well as preparing them for the workplace.
“They do have [these skills] in their repertoire, they just need to build up by reinforcement,” Conoley said. “PRT will actually catch them doing something, then do a lot of practice, a lot of celebration until they do it right. … It’s a very positive approach.”
According to Koegel, the program has become very successful in the few years since it was founded. Koegel said many students have already found jobs and have flourished in treatment with the help of the staff and their parents.
Prior to receiving the DOR contract, the program employed a “buddy system” in which the student would be accompanied by a classmate to lectures and social events in order to learn interaction skills and how to better interpret their surroundings. The program is a large step forward in Koegel’s plan for conquering the disorder, he said.
“We want to completely solve the problem — to overcome autism,” Koegel said.
According to Koegel, some program graduates are currently helping Harvard, Yale, UCLA and Stanford launch their own programs specifically dedicated to autism research.