What is Discrete Trial Training?

Reposted with permission from the Applied Behavioral Science Institution in Michigan

According to the CDC, as many as one in 44 children fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. Receiving a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder can be frightening and cause uncertainty when it comes to treatment. Fortunately, several time-tested behavioral therapy methods have been used to help children with autism socialize, take perspectives of others, and learn new skills with less frustration. Learn more about discrete trial training, which is a specialized subset of applied behavior analysis, below.

What Is DTT?

Discrete trial training uses several steps to teach a child a new skill. By breaking up a larger or more complicated task into specific, smaller steps, the child can focus on learning one at a time and building up to the full concept. Each step can be considered a “trial” or a teaching attempt. When the child masters one, they may move to the next.

What Are The Five Steps of DTT? 

DTT uses bite-sized steps that allow the child to master smaller skills before moving on to larger ones. Below are the five steps typically involved in a DTT session. 

1. Discriminative Stimulus

This step involves the teacher showing the child the task they will be completing. The teacher may place cards on the table, ask a question about an object in her hand, or say another phrase that will help the child discern what their part in the activity should be.

2. Prompt 

The prompt may be used to help direct the child toward the correct response. For example, a teacher may ask, “where is the blue card?” and place their hand near the blue card on the table to guide a child who has trouble responding.

3. Child Response

The child will answer the question or complete the task assigned in the discriminative stimulus. Remember, these tasks are small and should allow the child to respond with correct or incorrect answers. Responses do not have to be verbal.

4. Consequence

If the child responds with the correct answer, the teacher responds positively. This can include praise, candy, a sticker, or anything else the child sees as desirable. The child can know of the reward ahead of time. If the child responds incorrectly, it’s very important not to “punish” the wrong answer. Simply focus on correcting without negative emotion and move forward to the next trial.

5. Inter-Trial Interval

This interval refers to the short period of time between the consequence and the next trial. It is often extremely short (under five seconds).

Who Can Benefit From DTT?

Children with autism who are around two to six years old often see the most benefit from DTT, but people of any age can learn new skills in a controlled, calm environment with this method. The possibilities are wide-ranging: Children on the autism spectrum can learn social skills, increase their communication with others, and practice habits used in daily living activities such as getting dressed independently, following directions at school, and eating at the dinner table.

About The Applied Behavioral Science Institution

Building a better world through applied behavioral science

Our mission is to provide applied behavior analysis therapeutic interventions in the home environment of West Michigan residents. Applied behavior analysis uses best practice approaches as developed by peer reviewed literature to improve language and social skills, and curb problem behaviors for children with autism. Learn more at https://appliedbehavioralscience.org/

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