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. It involves breaking skills down to their most basic parts and teaching those skills to children, step by step. Children get rewards for all of their achievements, which encourages them 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 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 teach many new skills to autistic children. 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 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, 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 autistic children better than more traditional teaching methods.
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 can be critical to its success.
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.
You might be able to include the costs of using DTT in children’s NDIS plans. You can contact the NDIS to find out.
Does Discrete Trial Training work?
High-quality research shows that Discrete Trial Training (DTT) has positive effects on the behaviour of autistic children. It’s been found to work even better when it’s combined with other ABA techniques.
There is some controversy over DTT. Some people in the autistic community are concerned that DTT sometimes aims to stop behaviours like flapping or stimming, especially when DTT is used as part of an intensive ABA program. They feel that stimming can be calming or enjoyable for autistic people, so it isn’t always appropriate to try to stop it.
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.
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.
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. You could also talk about it with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordinator (LAC), if you have one.
There are many therapies and supports for autistic children. These range from behaviour therapies and developmental approaches to medications and alternative therapies. When you understand the main categories that these therapies and supports fall into, it’ll be easier to work out the approach that will best suit your child.