Discrete Trial Teaching

In an ABA program, children with autism learn effectively with discrete trial teaching. Essentially, discrete trial teaching or discrete trial format (DTT/DTF) maximizes learning by systematically breaking skills down into easy to learn components. For example, many children with autism do not imitate from their environment. In an ABA program, we first teach simple imitation of objects and of actions such as pounding a hammer or jumping. Since imitation is a huge skill to learn, ABA successfully breaks this down into manageable steps.

Once children can learn to imitate the therapists’ actions, imitation may involve going around the house and playing following the leader. As well, imitation of more than one action is also targeted as a method to teach a variety of skills such as putting on your shoes and even language production. Imitation can be targeted to doing fine motor tasks or oral motor tasks to work on writing skills and sound production.

So what does DTT actually look like? Within DTT, there are 3 components to effectively teach children with autism: the discriminative stimulus (SD) or the command, the behavior of the child, and 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.

When done right, DTT ensures consistency across people since it always incorporates those three essential components. Consistency is also key to helping children maximally learn. When I mean consistency I mean that every one in the child’s life is doing the same thing each and every time. For example, if a team decides the child must request verbally for food or drink, then the parents and other care providers must also agree to this. It is extremely crucial, no matter how exhaustively draining it is, to be consistent as much as you can.

A properly run in-home ABA program for younger children will have consistency across therapists and family members, community outings, discrete trial teaching, pre-academic programs, leisure skills, self help skills, social programs, language promotion, behavior interventions, generalization of previous taught skills, play programs, and peer play when applicable.

Below is an instructional video on Discrete Trial Teaching or Discrete Trial Instruction. The video does state the DTT is composed of 4 parts, one of them being the “get ready” tapping prior to instruction. This is not necessary in DTT. Therapists should deliver the instruction 1-2 seconds after reinforcement was given for the previous trial.

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