What is Discrete Trial Training in ABA Therapy?

In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, discrete trial training (DTT) is one of the most important instructional methods for children with autism spectrum disorder. This method focuses on teaching a skill through a step-by-step process, rather than teaching the desired skill all at once. It is sometimes easier to think of this training process as a “teaching attempt”. With each teaching attempt, it is very important for the teacher to have a very specific set of steps that are clearly defined. These steps help the teacher clarify what methods are working and which are not.

To get a better understanding of DTT, here is an example with Taylor during two teaching attempts. In the first teaching attempt, the teacher laid out cards on the table; one red, one blue. The teacher then asked Taylor to point to the red card, in which Taylor responded by pointing to the red card. The teacher reacted with a “That’s right Taylor! Good Job!” This was followed by a short pause before the start of the next teaching attempt. In this teaching attempt, the teacher asked Taylor to point to the blue card. If Taylor was incorrect during a teaching attempt, the teacher would correct her and move on to the next attempt.

Why is DTT an effective teaching method for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder?
It’s because they often lack a desire to learn like their typical peers (Smith, 2001). Moreover, children with Autism have difficulty learning through the observation of others, as well as engaging with others. Using DTT in ABA therapy can increase motivation and learning because of the short teaching attempts, as well as the clarity the attempts provide. Overall, DTT helps maximize the child’s successes and minimizes their failures.