The Role of Discrete Trial Training in Applied Behavior Analysis

Discrete Trial TrainingIt’s common for people to use the phrases Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Discrete Trial Training interchangeably. Yet, those of us who work in ABA know that while there is a relationship between the two, they are not the same thing.

For example, you may say school and classroom interchangeably in conversation, yet most recognize that there is a clear difference. The school is the main structure, and the classroom is a segment of the school. Make sense?

Discrete Trial Training, often called DTT, is just one piece that falls under the broader picture of Applied Behavior Analysis.

Let’s take a closer look.

Understanding Applied Behavior Analysis

ABA is an evidence-based approach to understand and improve human behavior – including what behavior looks like, how it changes over time, and how to teach and implement new skills to modify behavior. Think of ABA as a larger umbrella that encompasses multiple components and practices underneath it.

The following practices live under this ABA umbrella:

  • Discrete Trial Training: DTT is conducted one-on-one and teaches new skills to individuals in small, bite-sized chunks. We’re going to spend the bulk of this blog diving into this, so there is more to come!
  • Reinforcement: A key component of ABA, reinforcement is a technique used to increase or decrease the chances of a specific behavior happening.
  • Prompting and Fading: When teaching a skill to an individual, prompting and fading may be used together in the process. Through encouragement and instruction, prompting helps serve as an immediate reminder to increase the chances of an individual using a skill. As the individual learns the skill, the prompts gradually decrease or “fade” until mastery occurs.
  • Modeling: In ABA, modeling is used to showcase a preferred behavior. For example, if you, as the educator, want an individual to learn how to wash their hands, you could roleplay the skill to the student.
  • Generalization: Generalization refers to an individual’s ability to apply a skill across different settings and with different people. Can a child make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread at their parent/guardian’s home AND make a turkey and cheese sandwich on a sub roll at their grandparents’ house? If so, they are generalizing sandwich-making skills across environments.
  • And more!

Now that we’ve broadly explained Applied Behavior Analysis and the practices that fall under it, let’s navigate through the finer details around Discrete Trial Training.

Implementing Discrete Trial Training (DTT)

DTT is used to teach new skills or concepts to individuals with disabilities, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It involves breaking down behaviors or skills into chunkable pieces, or increments, and teaching the smaller steps one at a time in a repetitive and structured manner as a student works toward mastery and putting the steps together.

During DTT, an individual’s progress is constantly monitored so that adjustments can be made throughout the process.

DTT in Action: A Practical Example

To illustrate a possible task analysis, let’s use a box of macaroni and cheese as an example.

Skill: Cooking macaroni and cheese to completion.

  • 1st Step: Locate the pot and fill it with the desired amount of water.
  • 2nd Step: Place the pot full of water on the stove top.
  • 3rd Step: Turn the burner on carefully to the desired temperature setting.
  • 4th Step: Set a timer for X amount of minutes.
  • 5th Step: When the timer goes off, pour the macaroni into the boiling water.
  • 6th Step: Set a time for X amount of minutes.
  • 7th Step: When the timer goes off, pour the macaroni into a strainer to drain the water.
  • 8th Step: Pour the strained macaroni back into the original pot.
  • 9th Step: Cut open the packet of cheese and pour it onto the macaroni in the pot.
  • 10th Step: Stir the cheese and macaroni until thoroughly mixed.
  • 11th Step: Pour a serving of macaroni and cheese from the pot into a bowl, and enjoy!

DTT: A Step-by-Step Process

Through DTT, which uses the principles of ABA, you would teach and repeat each individual sub-skill until it’s mastered. As students or clients teach/master the 1st Step, you will then use it to build up to the 2nd Step. Once those first 2 Steps are mastered, you would add in the 3rd Step until you reach completion (or a full bowl of mac n’ cheese, in this case).

Versatility of DTT in Practice

A heavily researched technique, DTT is frequently used in school and therapy-based settings and has been proven effective in teaching communication skills, social interaction, adaptive and academic skills.

TeachTown & Discrete Trial Training

At TeachTown, our suite of special education solutions is based on research and the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, with DTT woven throughout, including our technology-based teacher-led and student-led sessions.

If you’re interested in learning more about our K-12 standards-based, adapted core curriculum, enCORE, and our supporting interventions, schedule a consultation with a member of our team.

Contributor Bio

Megan GilsonMegan Gilson is the Senior Manager of Content Marketing at TeachTown, the leading provider of K-12 adapted core curriculum. A skilled content creator, Megan has spent the last decade of her career raising awareness about the benefits of health, wellness and equitable and inclusive education. She received her bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz.

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