Discrete Trial Teaching Intervention for ABA

Discrete Trial Training ABA having fun

Positive reinforcement and having fun are a very important part of DTT and ABA

As mentioned in the previous post – ABA, what is it and how does it work – the most common and distinguishing type of intervention based on applied behavior analysis is discrete trial teaching. It is what people most often think of when you say “ABA” or “Lovaas method.” This is partly because there are so many hundreds of hours of DT teaching, and partly because it looks so odd. But it is what it is because that’s what works, every aspect has been refined (and is still being refined) to result in maximum learning efficiency.


Briefly: the student is given a stimulus, a question, a set of blocks and a pattern, a request to go ask Mom for a glass of water along with the correct response, or a strong ‘hint’ at what the response should be. The child is rewarded (an M&M, a piggy-back ride, a happy “good job!”) for repeating the right answer; anything else is ignored or corrected very neutrally. As their response becomes more reliable, the ‘clues’ are withdrawn (less prompting) until they can respond independently. This is usually done one-on-one at a table (thus the term table-top work), with detailed planning of the requests, timing, wording, and the therapist’s reaction to the student’s responses.

It is a mistake, however, to think of an ABA program as just DT teaching. Lovaas (among others) notes very clearly that a behavioral program is a comprehensive intervention, carried out, as much as possible, in every setting, every available moment. The skills that are taught so efficiently in discrete trial drills must be practiced and generalised in natural settings.

A child who does not know the difference between ‘ask’ and ‘tell’ may slowly get a higher and higher percentage of right answers during table-top drills until he is considered to have ‘mastered’ that skill; but he will not go on to use ‘ask’ and ‘tell’ appropriately without additional support in natural situations; it takes time to go from ‘mastery’ to ‘ownership.’ It takes trained and supportive people like parents, teachers, relatives, even peers to help reinforce a wide range of appropriate behaviours in a variety of settings, until the level of reinforcement fades to a typical level, such as the smile you get when you greet someone.

As mentioned above it is so important to reinforce what the child learns during the “table top work” in as many other everyday situations as possible, otherwise they may think that it is only expected of them during the training sessions and they will not progress to use what they are learning or move forward to ownership of the skill.

Once again we can surely say that these methods have worked with Isy and we attribute much of her progress to ABA and discrete trial teaching. It is however not the only type of teaching or tuition she is exposed to. Liz has developed many different type of drills and activities from a range of disciplines including SON RISE, ABA & DTT, DIR Floortime along with a range of books on teaching children with special needs. With these guides and resources it is definitely possible and very rewarding to make up your own programs and deliver them to your child by yourself and or with the help of hired or volunteer tutors.

Tell us about your experience with ABA and DTT, leave a reply below!

Below are some books Liz has used to make up Isy’s programs and resources and that we can highly recommend:

Information source and original article author: Richard Saffran

© 2011, EJ Banon. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Autism Teaching Aids, Autism Treatments and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.