Lynn Koegel, who developed prominent autism therapy, joins Stanford

Lynn Koegel, who developed an early intervention for autism that taps children’s own motivations, began work at the School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital this month.

Lynn Koegel

Autism expert Lynn Koegel, PhD, who developed a widely-used autism therapy called pivotal response treatment, joined the clinical faculty of the Stanford University School of Medicine on July 1.

Koegel comes from the University of California-Santa Barbara, where she has been clinical director of the Koegel Autism Center. She co-founded the center with her husband, Robert Koegel, PhD, who will join the Stanford autism program as a senior researcher. A speech-language pathologist by training, Lynn Koegel holds a PhD from UC-Santa Barbara in educational psychology and has worked for more than 20 years with her husband to develop intervention techniques for individuals on the autism spectrum.

Pivotal response treatment is based on the idea that targeting certain “pivotal” areas of a child’s behavior — such as motivation — with early, intensive treatment can produce global improvements in autism symptoms. More recent research has found that the PRT techniques were effective for adolescents and adults. Autism is a developmental disorder whose core features are problems with social communication and a tendency to engage in repetitive or restrictive behaviors.

“Having the Koegels here will allow us to further develop our early intervention research program in autism, and having the infrastructure of Stanford available to them will help them to disseminate the intervention much more widely,” said Antonio Hardan, MD, professor and chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Stanford. He also directs the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.

At Stanford, Lynn and Robert Koegel will continue conducting research on PRT. Their early work focused on delivering the treatment to children ages 3-10. More recently, the couple and their colleagues have been testing whether PRT also helps other age groups, such as adolescents, adults and younger toddlers. 

“Stanford has so many brilliant, hard-working people who are doing interesting research,” Lynn Koegel said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to work with people I really admire.”

Koegel will also treat patients at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford who need speech therapy for autism, and will work to train other autism professionals in using PRT techniques with children.

“We’re very excited that Stanford will be able to make this training available to more clinicians and help disseminate this intervention that has a reasonable evidence base to support its effectiveness,” Hardan said.



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