What is Discrete Trial Training?


Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is defined as the applied use of behavioral principles to everyday situations with the goal of either increasing or decreasing targeted behaviors. However, ABA’s application in a practical environment varies based on the specific situation.

All ABA programs share certain key components:

  • Discrete trial teaching

  • Programming for generalization to the natural environment,

  • Reinforcement

  • Prompting and fading strategies

  • Outcome-based decision-making

What is Discrete Trial Training (DTT)?

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a method of teaching in simplified and structured steps. Instead of teaching an entire skill in one go, the skill is broken down and “built-up” using discrete trials that teach each step one at a time (Smith, 2001). According to Smith (2001), discrete trials are an effective teaching method for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

What is it?

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) basically isn’t a therapy in itself, but a teaching technique used in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) therapies. Derived from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) theory, DTT involves breaking simple skills down to their most basic parts and teaching those skills to the child, in a step-by-step process. All achievements-- subtle or significant--are rewarded. This encourages the child to learn and use the new skill. DTT is often used as part of a more broad Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)-based approach.

Who is DTT for?

DTT can be used with people of any age with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). That being said, interventions using the DTT technique typically target children aged 2-6 years.

What is DTT used for?

DTT is used to teach a variety of new skills or behavior to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ranging from very simple to more complex skills, depending on the specific needs of the child. For example, it can be used to teach:

  • speech and language

  • daily living skills such as dressing, gestures, using utensils, etc.

  • writing

Some children might find it difficult to follow instructions or hold a conversation. DTT can be used to teach children about these basic skills. For children who do not speak, DTT can help them learn to build upon their receptive and expressive language skills. Because it works on behavior modification, DTT, through the science of ABA, can also be used to teach parents how to manage their child’s challenging behaviors.

Where did DTT originate from?

Derived from ABA, DTT is a teaching technique and has its roots in ‘learning theory,’ which was developed in the early 1900s. According to learning theory, how people behave in any given situation is largely established by their previous experiences of similar situations.

As a treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder, DTT is typically associated with the Lovaas treatment method, which was developed in the 1960s, with DTT as a central component.

What is the idea behind it?

DTT is founded on the idea that any behavior or skill can be taught by breaking particular skills into smaller steps, making them more susceptible for mastery. The DTT method has been found to suit children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) more effectively than many other traditional teaching methods.

DTT uses repetition as its core formula, so the child has plenty of opportunities to learn and practice the new skill or behavior. The reinforcement method employed with DTT is appended into its technique and encourages the child to learn and progress.

This is based on the idea that behavior that is rewarded will happen more frequently, whereas behavior that isn’t rewarded will happen less frequently.

What does the DTT procedure involve?

The DTT approach involves using a basic procedure to teach a new skill or behavior to a child, and repeating it until he/she is familiar with the skills and is able to generalize them, thereby inducing learning.

While DTT eases the process of learning and helps with behavior modification, it can be a very time-intensive approach, requiring many hours to be implemented per day. Every child is different and has a different need. Depending upon the child’s treatment goals, DTT might even continue for several years. The level of parent involvement varies in each program, depending upon the service in which the DTT approach is being used.

A discrete trial consists of three components:

1) the instruction (often referred to as the SD or Discriminative Stimulus),

2) the child's response (or lack of response) to the instruction, and

3) the consequence, which is the teacher's reaction in the form of positive reinforcement, "Yes, great!" when the response is correct, or a gentle "try again" if it is incorrect.

Why is DTT effective?

According to quality research, DTT techniques have a positive effect on the behavior of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). When combined with other ABA techniques, it has been found to be even more effective.

There are a number of reasons why DTT can increase motivation and learning for a child with ASD. (Smith, 2001). Here are some significant ones:

  • First, each trial is short. Therefore, many teaching trials can be completed, allowing numerous learning opportunities.

  • Second, the DTT method of one-on-one teaching allows for the program to be completely individualized to suit the needs of each child.

  • Third, the “procedural” format of a discrete trial creates clarity for the child.

Have you ever enrolled your child in a Discrete Trial Training program or considered doing so? We would love to hear about your experience.

#DiscreteTrialTraining #ABA #behaviour #Appliedbehavioranalysis #Programme #Reinforcement #autismspectrumdisorder #DTT #ASD

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