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ABA Therapy

What Is Discrete Trial Training (DTT) In ABA Therapy?

Just as losing weight can be achieved by combining exercise and a well-balanced diet, successful ABA therapy is made up of several techniques that can help children with autism spectrum disorder see results through therapy. One of the most important techniques that ABA therapists use is called Discrete Trial Training (DTT).

What Is Discrete Trial Training?

Discrete Trial Training is a teaching technique that breaks down an action into small, bite-sized pieces. DTT uses positive reinforcement as a means of incentivizing the desired behaviors.

Tristam Smith, a researcher who changed the landscape of care for children with ASD, explained that “for children with autism, DTT is especially useful for teaching new forms of behavior (e.g., speech sounds or motor movements that the child previously could not make) and new discriminations (e.g., responding correctly to different requests). DTT can also be used to teach more advanced skills.”

To learn more about what Discrete Trial Training is for ABA therapy, click here.

Breaking Down Discrete Trial Training

Discrete Trial Training typically follows a five-step process.

  1. The therapist presents a brief, clear instruction or question, such as “Pick up the apple” or “Which one is the apple?”

  2. Right after the therapist asks the question/gives the instruction, the therapist actively assists the child in responding to the question by taking the child’s hand and guiding them (or “modeling”) the intended action.

  3. The child gives either a correct or incorrect response.

  4. If the child gives a correct response, the therapist reinforces the response with something the child enjoys, such as praise, small bites of food, a favorite toy or activity, etc. If the child gives an incorrect response, the teacher finds a way to gently communicate that the response was incorrect.

  5. After, the therapist pauses for a few seconds before starting the next trial.

Over time and through practice, the therapist will provide less and less assistance for the child, and eventually, the child will be able to perform the targeted skill or action independently.

The Benefits of Discrete Trial Training

Discrete Trial Training can help children master new forms of behavior and make observations and responses about events. Some of these include:

  • Adding new speech sounds and combining them with words, syllables, phrases

  • Finding out how to make signs in sign language

  • Learning new, subtle motor movements such as writing, drawing, or cutting with scissors

  • Finding out how to imitate an action such as snapping when a therapist snaps their finger

  • Performing an action in response to a verbal cue or using language to respond to a visual cue

  • Participating in conversation by responding with verbal responses to verbal cues

  • And more!

The Limits of DTT

DTT Requires Continual Practice

To practice skills learned during therapy, Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) often pair completed goals/skills with new ones so clients will have the chance to build cross-functional mastery.

Still, classroom teaching only amounts to so much. It is up to the children’s family to ensure that practice occurs outside of the classroom/autism therapy center.

DTT Works Best With Other Therapy Techniques

DTT is often successful in a controlled educational environment, but what about in a real-world setting filled with distractions? Since DTT takes place in such a concentrated environment, using these acquired skills in places like a public classroom may seem challenging. To get a student ready, therapists can combine other therapy techniques such as Natural Environment Training (NET).

Natural Environment Training means working in an environment that the child encounters in their everyday life or an environment that the child prefers. When using this method, therapists can teach skills through play. For example, a therapist could take a child on a walk and ask what they see on the road.

If you want a quick overview of other techniques RBTs and BCBAs use, read our blog on ABA therapy basics.

Discrete Trial Training Requires Many Hours to See Results

Early in treatment, children with autism may require many hours of Discrete Trial Training to start seeing results. Because ABA therapy is such a personalized style of autism therapy, each child’s individual way of learning and skills they have already required may be a factor in how quickly a child learns a skill through DTT.

Regardless of how long DTT takes, the frequency of training should decrease over time. 

Discrete Trial Training at Applied ABC

At Applied ABC, BCBAs and RBTs use Discrete Trial Training when providing ABA therapy to children.

Ashley Bishop, the Clinical Director of our Manchester, New Hampshire autism therapy center, explained that “DTT sets up a situation in a personalized and specific direction and helps the client respond to the situation in the correct way. The action is reinforced with a preferred item or activity, so they learn that it’s the correct response.”

Bishop described how DTT might be used during therapy at Applied ABC by giving an example of a young child learning how to identify basic animals. The goal would be for the child to look at pictures of three different animals: a cat, dog, and fish, and for the child to touch the picture of the dog when asked.

“You’re teaching a child a skill from scratch. Instead of allowing the client to make a mistake, we correct them by guiding their arm toward the dog. We prompt them as much as needed, but over time, we stop guiding them, and eventually, they can point to the dog independently.”

Bishop explains that Discrete Trial Training may take months for some learners to identify 20 unique pictures and that DTT works best in conjunction with other autism therapy techniques such as Natural Environment Training.

As directed by their BCBA, Bishop and the other therapists at Applied ABC mix some old skills into training sessions so the children can more easily retain learned skills.

Despite the time investment and practice, DTT has helped countless children with autism gain important life skills, gain confidence, and lead more independent and fulfilling lives.

 Want to see if ABA therapy services at Applied ABC are right for your child? Click here to fill out an autism therapy assessment.

Sources Cited

Other articles

ABA Therapy Basics

Examples Of ABA Therapy

How ABA Therapy Works At Applied ABC

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