By Raising Children Network
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At a glance: Discrete Trial Training (DTT)
Type of therapy
The claim
Promotes learning and development of new skills, and decreases difficult behaviour.
Suitable for
People with ASD
Research rating

Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.

Research shows positive effects.

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

0-10 The time commitment required for DTT will depend on the type of program in which it is used and the specific needs of the child. Although this technique can be time intensive, research has shown that this intensity can be critical to its success.

Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week.

$0-30 Although the cost of DTT can be high, the exact cost will depend on the type of behavioural intervention program in which it is used. Costs might vary considerably across different programs.
Visit the Autism Services Pathfinder to browse service provider information.

About this intervention

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

Derived from Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) theory, DTT involves breaking skills down to their most basic parts and teaching those skills to the child, step by step. All achievements are rewarded, which encourages the child to learn.

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

Who is it for?
DTT can be used with people of any age with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). That said, interventions using the DTT technique typically target children aged 2-6 years.

What is it used for?
DTT is used to teach a variety of new skills to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), 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 and using utensils
  • writing.

It can also be used to teach children how to follow instructions and hold a conversation. For children who don’t speak, DTT can help them learn to use sign language or other communication devices.

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

Where does it come from?
DTT is a teaching technique derived from ABA, and 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 it?
DTT is based on the idea that any behaviour or skill can be taught by breaking skills into smaller steps, making them easier to master.  The DTT technique has been found to suit children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) better than more traditional teaching methods.

DTT uses repetition, so the child has plenty of opportunities to learn and practise the new skill. Rewards are also used to encourage the child to learn and use the new skill. This is based on the idea that behaviour that is rewarded will happen more frequently, whereas behaviour that isn’t rewarded will happen less frequently.

What does it involve?
The DTT approach involves using a basic procedure to teach a new skill or behaviour and repeating it until the child learns.

The procedure involves giving an instruction, such as ‘pick up the cup’. If needed, the instruction is followed with a physical or verbal prompt, such as pointing at the cup. Success is rewarded with praise, a small food reward or something else the child likes.

DTT can be a very time-intensive approach for learning and changing behaviour. It can involve many hours a day. Depending on the goals for the child, DTT can go on for several years. The level of parent involvement will vary depending on the program or service in which the DTT approach is being used.

Cost considerations
The cost of DTT will depend on the type of ABA-based intervention or program being used. It is likely that ABA programs using DTT will involve a high cost because they are time intensive.

Does it work?
Quality research shows that this approach has positive effects on the behaviour of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It has been found to be even more effective when combined with other ABA techniques.

Who practises this method?
Anyone can practise DTT. Most ABA programs using DTT, however, are developed by psychologists and implemented by special education teachersoccupational therapists, speech pathologists and other aides.

Parent education, training, support and involvement
Parents are usually required to play a role in ABA programs that use DTT. Training might be available depending on the specific ABA program.

Where can I find a practitioner?
Contact your state autism association and ask them to recommend a service or practitioner.

  • Last updated or reviewed 25-11-2014