Discrete Trial Training

Discrete Trial Teaching

When it comes to Applied Behavior Analysis, many professionals/students instantly think of DTT- Discrete Trial Teaching. This is often a huge misconception. While Discrete Trial Teaching serves as an integral component of ABA, it is definitely not ABA itself. It rather is a teaching technique used by professionals who are practicing behavior therapy, alongside many other strategies such as Incidental or Naturalistic Teaching.


What DTT Really is About?

The term Discrete Trial Teaching becomes pretty much self-explanatory once you dig into its literal meaning. It involves breaking down larger skills into smaller, more ‘discrete’ components which aim to simplify the tasks, allowing the child to get reinforcement for every correct attempt made, in order to facilitate the learning process. Each attempt made is known as a ‘trial’.

Take for instance a child, Ali, whose receptive language skills are being worked on. The therapist places two separate flashcards in front of him on the table-top, one showing an apple and the other showing a ball. The therapist then asks him ‘Give me the ball’.

The child scans the flashcards and picks the one showing the ball, giving it to the therapist. She verbally praises him by saying ‘Great job, Ali!’ followed by a hi-five. This is one ‘discrete trial’ involved when working on a goal in the Receptive Language domain.


Learning the A-B-Cs of Behavior

Before getting into the depth of DTT, it is important to know the Three-Term Contingency- The A-B-Cs of behavior. With ‘A’ standing for Antecedent, ‘B’ meaning the Behavior and ‘C’ standing for the Consequence. The antecedent is what comes before the behavior occurs, it could be an instruction or an occurring event. While on the other hand, the consequence is what follows the behavior.


Identifying the ABCs in Different Settings

In a DTT session, with the example mentioned above, the instruction given to Ali by the therapist is the antecedent, him reaching out to give the flashcard is the behavior and the consequence is the verbal praise and the hi-five that follows.

When it comes to problem Behaviors and identifying the function of a behavior (something that can cover an entirely separate article), let us take for instance Ali’s hitting behavior. After an in-depth functional behavioral assessment, the therapist finds out that Ali usually hits his peers during circle time because another therapist yells at him to ‘Stop’ when he hits.

It was identified as attention-seeking behavior with Ali being bought in a group setting for circle time being the antecedent, the behavior being his hitting and the consequence being another therapist telling him to ‘Stop’.


Differentiating Consequences

While understanding consequences, as stated in the examples above, it can be comprehended that during a Discrete Trial session the consequence can either be in the form of reinforcement or error correction.

This means that during skill teaching, each time that a child gives a correct response it should be positively reinforced by the therapist in order to keep the child motivated and improve the entire learning procedure. An example of reinforcement can be hi-five, phrases of verbal praise or tangible items such as certain toys or edibles that the child loves.

This concept has its roots in the early teachings of behaviorism surrounding operant conditioning, a concept introduced by B.F Skinner which devises that the occurrence of a certain behavior tends to increase if that behavior receives reinforcement of any kind.

A simple example of this can be a child screaming to get candy because his needs have been met in the past whenever he screamed. Hence, the screaming became a learned behavior as well as a tool for him to get what he wants.

When we talk about error correction, this occurs each time the child gives an incorrect response in a Discrete Trial session, followed by the therapist prompting him/her to produce the correct response.


Learning the Hierarchy of Prompts

As the term suggests, a prompt is a clue or an aid given to a child in order for him to perform the desired behavior or learn the skill being taught. In simple words, prompting a child means helping them. Most of the times, whenever a completely new concept is taught to a child, the Therapist starts off by using a full physical prompt (also known as ‘Hand Over Hand’ prompting).

As the child begins to grasp the concept, this is slowly faded to a partial physical prompt, moving down to a gestural prompt and then a verbal prompt. This can be better understood by the following example:

Rayan is a 4-year-old boy with Mild Autism who is being taught how to imitate motor actions using objects. The therapist starts off with a simple act of ‘putting a ball inside a cup’. In the very first trials, she gives him an SD ‘Do this’ followed by herself putting a ball inside a cup and then putting both objects in front of the child to allow him to imitate.

Since the child is new to the concept, she holds his hand and directs it towards grabbing the ball and then putting it inside the cup (full physical prompt). This is followed by verbal praise and bubbles, one of his strongest reinforcers. After a couple of trials, the therapist sees that the child is getting the concept and as soon as the SD ends, he reaches out for the ball, grabs it but becomes clueless afterward.

The therapist then intervenes and guides his hand towards the cup, then lets go of it, allowing him to complete the action himself (partial physical prompt). This is again followed by reinforcement. After a few trials, the child quickly is able to respond by picking up the ball after the SD, knowing that it has to be put somewhere, but is unsure about his move so he stops midway.

The therapist intervenes by pointing towards the cup or tapping on it (gestural prompt), and he gets the cue instantly, dropping the ball in the cup. Gradually, this too is faded and the child is given the SD, and then prompted by saying ‘in the cup’ (verbal prompt).

The goal is to fade all kinds of prompt, allowing the child to learn to independently perform the task.


Why choose DTT for children with Autism?

As Smith (2001) puts it, the goal of Discrete Trial Teaching is to simplify tasks into manageable trials, in order to increase the number of successes and reduce failures at most. For children with Autism, it is highly preferable that clear and precise instructions are given to them, for teaching new skills as well as offering guidance with daily living. Hence, DTT becomes a very ideal tool for such children, with its compact trial-based approach that maximizes the chances for positive learning.

More Articles Link Below :

  1. Depression – Clinical Depression (2018)
  2. Anxiety Disorders
  3. Applied Behavior Analysis


This Article is Written By Anum Farooq

  • Co-Founder & Organizer:
  • Clinical Psychologist
  • ABA therapist 
  • Researcher

Click HereContact Us for Consultation

Please Leave Comment about our ABA Article Below.

Fill up this Form for Webinars & Courses Registration

Fill up form for Webinar Rigistration

rational emotive behavior therapy


Applied Behavior Analysis  ABA

ABA is a type of therapy based on principles of learning and motivation from Behavior analysis. This therapy helps us to understand the applicability of behaviors in real life
situations. ABA is an adult led therapy technique that is one of the most widely used technique for behavior modification. free consulting


Core Principles of ABA : The consequences of behavior decide whether behavior will increase or decrease.

The goal of ABA is to teach children the skills they need to learn from the environment with Special ABA Techniques & ABA Therapy . Basically it identifying specific behaviors and modifying them and keeping data on them so that you can tell what is changing. The threeterm contingency (also known as the ABC contingency) in operant conditioning describes the relationship between a behavior, its consequence, and the antecedents.


Aim of ABA:

The aim of the therapy is to:

  • Increase the probability of occurrence of desirable behaviors and to decrease the probability of undesirable ones
  • To teach new skills (adaptive skills, communication skills, social skills etc.)
  • To maintain behaviors
  • To decrease the frequency and intensity of disruptive behaviors (e.g. self-injury or stereotypic behaviors)


Who introduced ABA?

ABA was introduced in 1970 by Psychologist Ivar Lovaas and Robert Koegel at UCLA.


Types of ABA Therapy

Its approach has expanded to include several different types of ABA Therapy or techniques to aid application


1 Pivotal Response Training (PRT)
2 Behavior Modification
3 Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
4 Functional Analysis
5 Differential Reinforcement
6 Behavior Mapping
7 Sensory Strategies
8 Advanced Play Skills


How does ABA Therapy work?

  • It tries to meet the individual needs of each person (individualized education plan), skill repertoire development for skill deficits and behavior management for excessive disruptive behaviors.
  • Can be implemented in one on one therapeutic intervention and in a group setting as well
  • ABA can be implemented at various places – at home, school, and community
  • It goes by an initial assessment of behavior, led by monitoring of behavior (baselines), then devising a management plan and recording the change in behavior as per the management is given. The baselines and recording strategies are the key methods to monitor behavior in ABA.


Three Term Contingency : ABC

  1. Antecedent
  2. Behavior
  3. Consequences

     1 – An Antecedent: this is what occurs right before the target behavior. It can be verbal (command, request) or non – verbal like picture, toy or physical. A command can be from the environment, from another person or sensory stimulation.

     2 – A resulting Behavior: this is the person’s response to the antecedent. The behavioral response can be an action, a verbal response or some other

     3 – A Consequence: the outcome that immediately follows the response. The consequence will decide the future probability of occurrence of behavior, whether it will increase or decrease.

Looking at A-B-Cs helps us understand:

  1. Why a behavior may be happening
  2. The consequence of behavior would determine whether the behavior will
    occur in the future or not


Applied Behavior Analysis Applications:

ABA is effective for people of all ages. It can be used in regular and special education setups, pediatric medicine, treatment of troubled teens, sports psychology, business and service organizations, early intensive treatment for children with autism, and eating disorders.

*As soon as the child is diagnosed with autism seek ABA therapy as soon as possible.


Evidence based therapy working hours for ABA

Forty hours one on one session in a week.


What does an ABA Program Involve?

An ABA program devised by a BCBA will compromise on detailed assessment of the child on the following domains taken from THE ASSESSMENT OF BASIC LANGUAGE AND LEARNING SKILLS MANUAL (ABBLS R). The ABBLS R is an assessment, curriculum guide and skills tracking system for children with language delay.

  • Basic learner skills assessments
    1. Cooperation and reinforce effectiveness
    2. Visual performance
    3. Receptive language
    4. Imitation
    5. Vocal imitation
    6. Requests
    7. Labeling
    8. Intraverbals
    9. Spontaneous vocalizations
    10. Syntax and grammar
    11. Play and leisure
    12. Social interaction
    13. Group instruction
    14. Follow classroom routines
    15. Generalized responding
  • Academic skills assessment
    1. Reading skills
    2. Math skills
    3. Writing skills
    4. Spelling
  • Self help skills assessment
    1. Dressing skills
    2. Eating skills
    3. Grooming
    4. Toilet skills
  • Motor skills assessment
    1. Gross motor skills
    2. Fine motor skills

The ABLLS R manual compromised of these four major categories having 25 domains on which the Behavior analyst assessed the child and devises the management plan accordingly. The scoring is done on each domain based on the competency of the child, the planner is made accordingly.


Early Intensive Behavior Intervention (EIBI)

EIBI program offers 10 major components

  • Treatment should begin early (prior to age 4 years)
  • Intervention should be intensive (40 hours per week)
  • Intervention must be based on behaviors (principles of behavior analysis)
  • Treatment is individualized for each child
  • Treatment must be comprehensive (detailed assessment of behaviors)
  • Treatment should occur in child’s natural environment
  • Active parent involvement
  • Opportunity to learn from and interact with typical peers is provided
  • Duration of treatment
  • Treatment supervision is only provided by individuals with experience in autism and advanced training in ABA


Behavior Teaching approaches in EIBI

  1. Discrete trail training
  2. Natural environment
  3. Fluency based instructions


  1. Discrete Trail training

Discrete trail training is one of the most frequent and widely use strategy/ approach in ABA. It comprises of Stimulus (SD), a response or prompt, reinforcement or correction.

  1. a) Discriminative Stimulus: a stimulusin the presence of which a particular response will be reinforced
    • SD should be clear and consistent
    • Free of extraneous information
    • Slightly louder than normal tone
  1. b) Prompt

A prompt is some form of assistance so that the child response correctly.

  • To help the child to learn through errorless learning
  • Response comes after the prompt (SD + Prompt = Response)
  1. c)Reinforcement or correction
  • Once the SD is given the child either respond correctly and reinforcement is delivered or the child responds incorrectly and a correction procedure is applied.
  • To general approaches to deal with incorrect responses
    • Informational “NO”
    • The therapist doesn’t say NO but does not deliver the reinforcer

2) Natural Environment

To help a child to learn new skills, Natural Environment Teaching (NET)
utilizes real-world scenarios, applying principles of Applied Behavior Analysis to teach
in the natural environment.

Natural Environment Training is a mode of teaching that is based on the
individual motivation to learn while using naturalistic or environmental cues. But this
learning is systematic but using the cues in a structured manner. 

3) Fluency based Instruction Training or Precision Teaching

Precision teaching is one of the modalities that focused heavily on systematically monitoring the data the frequency of the desirable responses will determine each learner’s curriculum. The aim is to maximize the learning based on personal fluency
measurements.. free training of ABA


ABA Infographic

Applied Behavior Analysis - ABA -


Strategies used in Applied Behavior Analysis


  • Reinforcement:procedure of providing consequences for a behavior that increase or maintain that behavior.
    • The most important assessment in ABA is to identify the reinforce the child requires to respond to a command.
    • It motivates the child to learn
    • The more powerful the reinforce the rapid the learning
  • Prompting:A procedure in which a stimulus is provided in addition to antecedent to evoke the targeted / correct response
  • Fading:behavior modification procedure in which behavior that are initially prompted are gradually withdrawn
  • Chaining:Breaking of complex behavior into sequence of easy sequence of behavior. e.g. wearing a shirt
  • Shaping:it is the procedure in which one systematically reinforces successive approximations of a target behavior while extinguishing previous approximations. E.g. language development; babbling.
  • Generalization:one a child learn a skill we consider it generalized if the child is able to perform the skill across new and novel situation. All of the skills that the child learns will learn should be flexible and widely used in natural life situations.
    • Children need to generalize across people, Settings, Stimuli and responses
  • Incidental teaching

Incidental teaching is a method of instruction that make use of opportunities that arise in child’s daily life to create a teaching moment


Who are ABA certified professionals to work?


A qualified applied behavior analyst is a licensed clinical therapist with additional training and experience in applied behavior analysis.

A board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) provides ABA therapy services. Behavior analyst examines the cause and consequences of behavior and they are certified professionals to work with children and people having behavioral issues.

The BCBA certifications have certain requirements like a master degree or PhD and to pass a certification exam from Behavior Analyst Certification Board (to learn more about the certifications go to Behavior Analyst certification board

The BACB offers a doctoral designation for Board Certified Behavior Analysts with doctoral training in behavior analysis — Board Certified Behavior Analyst-DoctoralTM (BCBA-DTM).

An RBT works in the supervision of a BCBA and is a 40 hour RBT training developed and conducted by BACB. RBT applicant must have 18 years of education.  To get RBT credentials an RBT competency assessment is the basic criteria
along with clinical supervision by a BCBA or BCaBA. The RBT assessment has to be done by a BCBA certified professional upon
completion of40-hour training.

The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) offer certifications and masters’ degree to professionals working with special needs. For more details about the courses, certifications and degrees click on the following link click here 


More Articles Link Below :

  1. Depression – Clinical Depression (2018)
  2. Anxiety Disorders
  3. REBT – Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy


This Article is Written By Anum Farooq

  • Co-Founder & Organizer:
  • Clinical Psychologist
  • ABA therapist 
  • Researcher

Click HereContact Us for Consultation

Please Leave Comment about our ABA Article Below.

Fill up this Form for Webinars & Courses Registration

Fill up form for Webinar Rigistration

rational emotive behavior therapy Logo Final

Best Online Mental Health Resources about most common Mental Health Problems like Neurodevelopmental Disorders, Clinical Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Dissociative identity disorders, and therapies like ABA, Cognitive Behavior Therapy and many more.

Copyright by 2018. All rights reserved.