What is Discrete Trial Training in ABA Therapy?

One theorist, Ivar O. Lovaas used behaviorism to teach children with autism. As well, he used a form of a teaching strategy called Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) to maximize learning in children with autism.

Discrete trial training (DTT) is most commonly used in ABA therapy. In an ABA program, children with autism learn effectively with discrete trial teaching. For example, many children with autism do not imitate from their environment. In an ABA program, we first teach simple imitation of objects and actions such as, pounding a hammer or jumping. Since imitation is a huge skill to learn, ABA successfully breaks this down into manageable steps. It is a method for individualizing and simplifying instruction to enhance children’s learning.

There are 3 components to effectively teach children with autism:

  • the discriminative stimulus (SD) or the command
  • the behavior of the child
  • the consequence of the child

Using these three simple components as well as using effective prompting strategies to help the child achieve success, children with autism soon begin to learn skills that they lack such as imitation, language, play, social skills and academic skills.

There are different techniques involved in DTT:

  1. Breaking skills down into component parts. For example, teaching colors, the therapist will place one red and one blue card on the table in front of the child
  • The therapist will then say “point to red”
  • Jane responds by pointing to the red card
  • The teacher would say “That’s right! Great job!”
  • There would be a very short pause before a new discrete trial would begin
  1. Teaching each skill component until mastery is attained
  • The therapist will continue to work on the specific skill until the child is able to perform the skill independently.  
  1. Teaching sessions
  • Full Gestural Trials
  • Partial Gestural Trials
  • Independent Trials
  1. Using prompts as needed and fading prompts as appropriate
  • Prompts are supplemental teaching aids and there are numerous types that could be used.
  • Prompts: Verbal prompts, non-verbal prompts, hand over hand prompts
  1. Using reinforcement strategies to increase skills
  • Correct responses receive positive reinforcement which may be in the form of verbal praise and/or through a token economy or delivery of tangible reinforcers