What is Discrete Trial Training?
Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a teaching technique used in some therapies for autistic children. It isn’t a therapy in itself.
DTT is based on Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) theory and is often used as part of a broad, ABA-based approach. It involves breaking down skills to their most basic parts and teaching those skills to children step by step. Children get rewards for all their achievements, which encourages them to learn.
DTT is sometimes called Discrete Trial Teaching,
Who is Discrete Trial Training for?
Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is typically used with autistic children 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 help autistic children learn new skills. 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.
DTT can also be used to help children learn new behaviour.
ABA and DTT can help autistic children develop independence, but these approaches shouldn’t be used to make children ‘mask’ their autism or ‘fit in’ with social norms.
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 therapy for autistic children, 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. This makes the skill or behaviour easier to learn.
DTT uses repetition, so children have plenty of opportunities to learn and practise new skills. DTT also 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.
What does Discrete Trial Training involve?
Discrete Trial Training (DTT) involves using a basic process to teach a new skill or behaviour and repeating it until children learn.
The process 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 time commitment required for DTT depends on the type of program in which it’s used, as well as children’s specific needs. Although this technique can take a lot of time, research has shown that this intensity is how DTT achieves its outcomes.
Does Discrete Trial Training help autistic children?
High-quality research shows that Discrete Trial Training (DTT) has positive effects on autistic children’s behaviour. It’s been found to work even better when it’s combined with other Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) techniques.
But there’s some controversy about ABA and DTT:
- Some autistic people say that ABA is based on the idea that autistic children should behave the same as typically developing children. They say that this idea doesn’t respect neurodiversity. That is, it doesn’t accept and respect natural differences in how people’s brains work and how they understand and interact with the world.
- Some autistic people feel that ABA programs sometimes aim to stop behaviour like flapping or stimming, which can be calming or enjoyable for autistic people.
- ABA programs can involve many hours of repetitive, one-to-one therapy each day and week. This intensity is an essential aspect of ABA, but it might be a concern for children.
- Some autistic people say ABA is harmful because it doesn’t put autistic children’s wellbeing first.
- In the past, ABA programs used punishment to stop challenging behaviour, although this seems to be less common with modern ABA.
Who practises Discrete Trial Training?
Anyone can practise Discrete Trial Training (DTT). Most ABA programs that use DTT are developed by psychologists and implemented by special education teachers, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, registered behaviour technicians and other aides.
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:
- Speech Pathology Australia – Find a speech pathologist
- Occupational Therapy Australia – Find an occupational therapist.
If you’re interested in DTT, it’s a good idea to talk about this approach with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If your child is in an ABA program that uses Discrete Trial Training (DTT), you usually need to play a role. Your involvement will vary depending on the program.
Training might be available depending on the program.
The cost of Discrete Trial Training (DTT) depends on the type of ABA-based 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.
Therapies and supports for autistic children range from behaviour therapies and developmental approaches to medicines and alternative therapies. When you understand the main types of therapies and supports for autistic children, it’ll be easier to work out the approach that will best suit your child.