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At a glance: Discrete Trial Training (DTT)
Type of therapy
Behavioural
The claim
Promotes learning and development of new skills, and decreases difficult behaviour
Suitable for
People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Research rating

Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.

Research shows positive effects.
Time

Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration

0-10 The time commitment required for Discrete Trial Training depends on the type of program in which it’s used and the specific needs of the child. Although this technique can take a lot of time, research has shown that this intensity can be critical to its success.
Cost

Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week

$0-30 Although the cost of Discrete Trial Training can be high, the exact cost depends on the type of behavioural intervention program in which it’s used. Costs might vary considerably across different programs.
Visit the Autism Services Pathfinder to browse service provider information.

What is Discrete Trial Training?

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is not a therapy in itself, but a teaching technique used in some autism spectrum disorder (ASD) therapies.

DTT is based on Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) theory. It involves breaking skills down to their most basic parts and teaching those skills to children, step by step. All achievements are rewarded, which encourages children to learn.

Sometimes called Discrete Trial Teaching, DTT is often used as part of a broad ABA-based approach.

Who is Discrete Trial Training for?

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is typically used with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) aged 2-6 years, but it can be used with people of any age.

What is Discrete Trial Training used for?

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is used to teach many new skills to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These skills range from very simple to more complex, depending on children’s specific needs. For example, DTT can be used to teach:

  • speech and language skills, like those needed for having a conversation
  • skills needed for sign language or communication devices
  • daily living skills like dressing, using utensils and following instructions
  • writing skills.

Because it works on changing behaviour, DTT can also be used to teach parents how to manage children’s difficult behaviour.

Where does Discrete Trial Training come from?

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a teaching technique that comes from Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). It has its roots in ‘learning theory’, which was developed in the early 1900s. Learning theory suggests that how people behave in any given situation is largely determined by their previous experiences of similar situations.

As a treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), DTT is typically associated with the Lovaas Program, which was developed in the 1960s with DTT as a central component.

What is the idea behind Discrete Trial Training?

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is based on the idea that you can teach any behaviour or skill by breaking the skill into smaller steps, which makes it easier to master.

DTT uses repetition, so children have plenty of opportunities to learn and practise new skills. DTT uses rewards to encourage children to learn and use new skills. This is based on the idea that behaviour that’s rewarded will happen more frequently, whereas behaviour that isn’t rewarded will happen less frequently.

The DTT technique suits children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) better than more traditional teaching methods.

What does Discrete Trial Training involve?

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) involves using a basic procedure to teach a new skill or behaviour and repeating it until children learn.

The procedure involves giving an instruction like ‘Pick up the cup’. If needed, you follow up the instruction with a physical or verbal prompt like pointing at the cup. You reward success with praise and something the child likes.

DTT can be a very time-intensive approach to learning and changing behaviour. It can involve many hours a day. Depending on children’s specific goals, DTT can go on for several years.

The level of parent involvement varies depending on the program or service that’s using the DTT approach.

Cost considerations

The cost of Discrete Trial Training (DTT) depends on the type of ABA-based intervention or program it’s being used in. It’s likely that ABA programs using DTT will involve a high cost because they take a lot of time.

Does Discrete Trial Training work?

High-quality research shows that Discrete Trial Training (DTT) has positive effects on the behaviour of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It’s been found to be even more effective when combined with other ABA techniques.

Who practises Discrete Trial Training?

Anyone can practise Discrete Trial Training (DTT). Most ABA programs using DTT are developed by psychologists and implemented by special education teachers, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, registered behaviour technicians and other aides.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

If your child is in an Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) program that uses Discrete Trial Training (DTT), you usually need to play a role. Training might be available depending on the ABA program.

Where can you find a practitioner?

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board has a list of certified Discrete Trial Training (DTT) providers.

You can also find professionals by going to:

If you’re interested in DTT, it’s also a good idea to talk about it with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child’s options.
 
 
 
  • Last updated or reviewed 25-11-2016