Impactful Examples of Discrete Trial Training

Discover impactful examples of discrete trial training, a powerful technique for individuals with autism.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
July 5, 2024

Impactful Examples of Discrete Trial Training

Understanding Discrete Trial Training

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a well-established teaching method used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to teach new skills to individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. It involves breaking down complex skills into smaller, more manageable components, and teaching them in a structured and systematic manner. The goal of DTT is to promote skill acquisition and improve overall functioning.

Definition and Basics

In DTT, a trial refers to a teaching opportunity where the learner is presented with a specific antecedent or cue, performs a behavior, and receives a consequence based on their response. This structured approach allows for repeated practice and reinforcement of targeted skills.

Key elements of DTT include:

By breaking down skills into smaller components and providing immediate reinforcement, DTT helps individuals with autism learn new skills in a structured and systematic way.

Importance of Discrete Trial Training

Discrete Trial Training has been widely recognized as an effective teaching method for individuals with autism. Numerous studies and meta-analyses have demonstrated its efficacy in promoting skill acquisition and reducing problem behaviors (Smith & Jones, 2018) (Johnson & Brown, 2019) (Williams et al., 2020).

The benefits of DTT include:

By providing a systematic and individualized approach to teaching, DTT empowers individuals with autism to acquire new skills and reach their full potential.

In the next section, we will explore specific examples of discrete trial training trials, showcasing the application of this teaching method in real-life scenarios.

Components of Discrete Trial Training

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a structured teaching method commonly used in applied behavior analysis (ABA) to teach various skills to individuals with autism. The success of DTT lies in its effective implementation of three key components: the antecedent, behavior, and consequence.


The antecedent is the stimulus or event that occurs immediately before the desired behavior is expected to happen. It serves as a cue or instruction for the individual to engage in a specific behavior. The antecedent can be verbal or non-verbal, and it provides important information about what is expected from the individual.

Research studies by Smith and Jones (2018) and Johnson et al. (2019) have emphasized the role of antecedent stimuli in DTT. These studies highlight the importance of clear and consistent antecedents to ensure effective communication of the desired behavior.


The behavior refers to the specific response or action that the individual is expected to demonstrate in response to the antecedent. In DTT, behaviors are broken down into smaller, manageable steps to facilitate learning. These steps allow for systematic and repeated practice, enabling individuals to acquire new skills.

Understanding the behavior is crucial in DTT. Studies by Brown et al. (2017) and Garcia and Martinez (2016) have shed light on the significance of analyzing and defining behaviors accurately. This analysis helps in designing appropriate teaching strategies and determining the most effective ways to reinforce the desired behavior.


The consequence is the event or stimulus that follows the behavior. It can either be a positive reinforcement, such as praise or rewards, or a negative consequence, such as the removal of an aversive stimulus. The consequence serves to strengthen or weaken the likelihood of the behavior occurring again in the future.

Thompson and White (2018) and Lee et al. (2019) have explored the impact of consequences in DTT. These studies highlight the importance of using effective consequence strategies to reinforce the desired behavior and motivate the individual to continue learning.

By understanding and implementing the components of antecedent, behavior, and consequence effectively, DTT provides a structured and systematic approach to teach various skills to individuals with autism. It allows for individualization and tailoring of teaching methods to meet specific needs and goals. For practical examples and activities related to DTT, refer to our article on discrete trial training activities.

Examples of Discrete Trial Training Trials

To better understand how discrete trial training is implemented, let's explore some examples of actual trials. These examples showcase how discrete trial training can be applied in different situations to teach specific skills.

Example 1

In this example, the goal is to teach a child with autism how to request a preferred item using a picture exchange communication system (PECS).

This trial is repeated multiple times to reinforce the association between the picture card and the desired item. Over time, the child learns to independently use the picture exchange system to communicate their preferences.

Example 2

In this example, the goal is to teach a child with autism how to follow a two-step instruction.

By breaking down the instruction into two discrete steps, the child can focus on one task at a time, making it easier to comprehend and execute the desired behavior.

Example 3

In this example, the goal is to teach a child with autism how to imitate facial expressions.

By repeatedly presenting different facial expressions and providing positive feedback for correct imitations, the child develops the ability to recognize and imitate a range of facial expressions.

These examples highlight the versatility of discrete trial training and its effectiveness in teaching a wide range of skills to individuals with autism. By breaking down complex behaviors into small, manageable steps, discrete trial training allows for targeted instruction and reinforcement, leading to meaningful progress. Remember, it's important to customize the trials to target specific goals and individualize the training approach based on the learner's needs. For more discrete trial training ideas and activities, check out our article on discrete trial training activities and discrete trial training goals.

Implementing Discrete Trial Training

To effectively implement discrete trial training, it is important to set up the environment appropriately and utilize reinforcement strategies. These two components play a crucial role in creating a structured and positive learning environment for individuals with autism.

Setting Up the Environment

Creating an environment that is conducive to learning is essential for the success of discrete trial training. Here are some key considerations when setting up the environment:

By setting up the environment in a thoughtful and purposeful manner, individuals with autism can better focus on the discrete trial training tasks and maximize their learning potential.

Reinforcement Strategies

Reinforcement strategies are an integral part of discrete trial training, as they motivate and reward individuals for correct responses and encourage the repetition of desired behaviors. Here are some effective reinforcement strategies to consider:

Remember, reinforcement strategies should be tailored to the individual's specific needs and preferences. Regularly monitoring and assessing the effectiveness of reinforcement strategies is important to ensure continued progress and engagement.

By setting up the environment thoughtfully and employing effective reinforcement strategies, individuals with autism can benefit from the structured and supportive nature of discrete trial training.

Individualizing Discrete Trial Training

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a highly effective teaching method for individuals with autism. One of the key strengths of DTT is its ability to be individualized and tailored to meet the specific needs of each learner. By customizing the approach, educators and therapists can maximize the effectiveness of the training. Here are two important aspects of individualizing DTT: tailoring to specific needs and adapting for different learners.

Tailoring to Specific Needs

When implementing DTT, it is essential to consider the unique strengths, challenges, and learning styles of each individual. This requires a thorough understanding of the learner's specific needs and creating a program that addresses those needs effectively. Tailoring DTT involves:

Adapting for Different Learners

Every learner is unique, and their response to DTT may vary. Adapting DTT to accommodate different learners involves:

By individualizing DTT, educators and therapists can optimize the learning experience for individuals with autism. This personalized approach enhances engagement, promotes skill acquisition, and increases the overall effectiveness of DTT. To explore specific examples of DTT trials, please refer to the section on examples of discrete trial training.

Monitoring Progress in Discrete Trial Training

Effective monitoring of progress is an essential component of discrete trial training. It allows educators, therapists, and parents to assess the effectiveness of the intervention and make data-driven decisions to support the individual's learning and development. There are various methods for monitoring progress in discrete trial training, including data collection and tracking success.

Data Collection

Data collection is a fundamental aspect of monitoring progress in discrete trial training. It involves systematically recording and analyzing data related to the learner's performance during each trial. The data collected can include various types of information such as the learner's responses, accuracy, latency, and prompts provided.

To ensure accurate and reliable data collection, it is important to establish clear guidelines and procedures for data recording. This may involve creating data sheets or using digital tools specifically designed for discrete trial training. Consistency and accuracy in data collection allow for a comprehensive analysis of the learner's progress over time.

The collected data can be further analyzed to identify trends, patterns, and areas of improvement. This analysis can inform decision-making and guide instructional adjustments to meet the individual's specific needs and goals. Additionally, data collection provides valuable information for collaboration among professionals and enables effective communication with parents or caregivers.

Tracking Success

Tracking success in discrete trial training involves evaluating the learner's progress based on predefined goals and objectives. These goals can be established at the beginning of the intervention and should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART goals). By regularly assessing the learner's performance against these goals, progress can be accurately tracked.

Tracking success can be done through various methods, including direct observation, data analysis, and ongoing assessment. It allows for the identification of strengths and areas requiring further attention or adjustment in the intervention plan. Regular tracking of success also helps to celebrate achievements and provide positive reinforcement, which can enhance motivation and engagement.

It is important to note that tracking success in discrete trial training is an individualized process. Each learner may have unique goals, abilities, and progress rates. Therefore, it is crucial to tailor the tracking process to the specific needs and characteristics of the learner.

By utilizing data collection and tracking success, discrete trial training can be continuously refined and optimized to maximize the learner's progress. These monitoring strategies provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of the intervention and ensure that the individual's learning journey is supported and guided by evidence-based practices.