What is Discrete Trial Training in ABA?

Discrete Trial Training is a teaching technique used in ABA therapy that involves breaking down complex skills into smaller, more manageable parts.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
July 3, 2024

What is Discrete Trial Training in ABA?

Understanding Discrete Trial Teaching

Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) is a fundamental teaching technique used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to break down complex skills into smaller, more manageable parts. It is a structured and systematic approach that aims to teach new skills and promote positive behavior change.

What is Discrete Trial Teaching?

Discrete Trial Teaching involves presenting a specific instruction or prompt to the learner, observing their response, and providing immediate feedback or reinforcement. Each teaching trial consists of three components: the antecedent, behavior, and consequence.

The Basics of Discrete Trial Teaching

In DTT, the antecedent refers to the instruction or prompt given to the learner. It sets the stage for the desired behavior and helps the learner understand what is expected of them.

The behavior is the learner's response to the antecedent, which can be a specific action, vocalization, or any observable behavior. Lastly, the consequence is the immediate feedback given to the learner based on their response. This feedback can be positive reinforcement, corrective feedback, or no consequence, depending on the learner's performance.

DTT sessions typically involve a series of trials, with each trial focusing on a specific skill or target behavior. The structure and predictability of DTT provide a clear learning environment for the learner, allowing them to focus on one skill at a time. By breaking down skills into smaller steps and providing repeated practice, DTT helps learners acquire new skills more efficiently.

DTT is often used to teach a wide range of skills, such as communication, social interaction, daily living skills, and academic concepts. It can be particularly beneficial for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, as it provides individualized instruction and targets specific areas of need.

By using DTT, educators, therapists, and parents can effectively teach new skills and promote positive behavior in a structured and systematic manner. It provides a foundation for learning and can be customized to meet the unique needs of each learner.

The Components of Discrete Trial Teaching

Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) involves breaking down skills into smaller, manageable steps to promote effective learning. This teaching method consists of three key components: the antecedent, behavior, and consequence.


The antecedent, also known as the discriminative stimulus, is what occurs immediately before the behavior is expected to occur. It serves as a cue or prompt for the individual to engage in the desired behavior. The antecedent can be a verbal instruction, a visual cue, or a specific event or situation.

For example, in teaching a child to say "thank you," the antecedent could be a prompt from the parent or teacher saying, "What do you say when someone gives you a gift?"


The behavior refers to the specific response or action that the individual is expected to exhibit in response to the antecedent. It is the target skill or behavior that is being taught. The behavior can be something simple like making eye contact, following an instruction, or solving a math problem.

In the example of teaching a child to say "thank you," the behavior would be the child saying the words "thank you" in response to receiving a gift.


The consequence is the outcome or event that follows the behavior. It can be either positive or negative, depending on the purpose of the teaching trial. In DTT, positive reinforcement is commonly used as a consequence to strengthen the desired behavior. Reinforcement can be in the form of praise, a high-five, a small treat, or any other preferred reward.

Continuing with the example, if the child says "thank you" after receiving a gift, the consequence could be the parent or teacher praising the child and giving them a high-five or a small treat as a form of positive reinforcement.

The components of antecedent, behavior, and consequence work together in a discrete trial to teach and reinforce specific skills. By systematically presenting antecedents, targeting specific behaviors, and providing appropriate consequences, individuals can learn and acquire new skills effectively.

It's important to note that the specific strategies and techniques used within each component may vary depending on the individual's needs, goals, and the guidance of professionals in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

The Benefits of Discrete Trial Teaching

Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) is an effective teaching method used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to teach various skills to individuals, particularly those with autism spectrum disorder. This structured approach offers several benefits that contribute to successful learning outcomes.

Individualized Instruction

One of the key benefits of DTT is its ability to provide individualized instruction. Each trial is tailored to the specific needs and abilities of the learner. This personalized approach allows for targeted teaching and ensures that the learner receives instruction at their own pace. By focusing on individual strengths and areas of improvement, DTT promotes progress and maximizes learning potential.

Clear Structure and Predictability

DTT offers a clear structure and predictable routine, which is particularly beneficial for individuals with autism who thrive on consistency. The structured format breaks down skills into smaller, manageable steps, making it easier for learners to understand and respond. This clear structure and predictability create a supportive learning environment that reduces anxiety and enhances learning opportunities.

Promotes Active Engagement

Active engagement is a crucial component of effective learning, and DTT excels in promoting engagement. By utilizing discrete trials, learners are actively involved in the learning process.

The clear instructions, prompts, and reinforcements used in DTT help to capture and maintain the learner's attention. This active engagement facilitates better information processing, memory retention, and generalization of skills across different settings.

To better understand the benefits of DTT, here is a summary in table format:

Benefits of Clear Structure and Predictability

Benefit Description
Individualized Instruction Tailored instruction to meet the unique needs and abilities of each learner.
Clear Structure and Predictability Provides a structured and predictable learning environment, reducing anxiety and enhancing learning.
Promotes Active Engagement Facilitates active participation and engagement in the learning process for better learning outcomes.

By recognizing and harnessing the benefits of DTT, parents and educators can create an optimal learning environment that supports the growth and development of individuals with autism and other learning challenges.

Implementing Discrete Trial Teaching

To effectively implement discrete trial teaching, it's important to establish a supportive and structured environment that promotes learning and engagement. This section will delve into the key steps involved in implementing discrete trial teaching: setting up the environment, breaking down skills into steps, and collecting data to monitor progress.

Setting Up the Environment

Creating an optimal learning environment is crucial for successful discrete trial teaching. Consider the following factors when setting up the environment:

  1. Physical Space: Ensure that the learning area is free from distractions and provides a quiet and comfortable space for both the learner and the instructor. Minimize visual and auditory distractions that may interfere with the learning process.
  2. Materials and Resources: Gather all the necessary materials and resources required for the specific skill or task being taught. This may include visual aids, manipulatives, or other instructional materials that support the learning objectives.
  3. Consistency: Maintain a consistent setting for the discrete trial sessions. This helps the learner understand the expectations and creates a sense of familiarity, which can enhance their learning experience.

Breaking Down Skills into Steps

Discrete trial teaching involves breaking down complex skills into smaller, more manageable steps. This allows the learner to master each step before moving on to the next. Here's an example of how skills can be broken down into steps:

Steps for Developing Following Directions Skill

Step Description
Step 1 Establish eye contact with the learner
Step 2 Present a single-step direction verbally
Step 3 Prompt the learner to follow the direction
Step 4 Provide reinforcement for correct responses
Step 5 Gradually increase the complexity of the directions

Breaking down skills into steps helps ensure that the learner can focus on one component at a time, leading to more successful learning outcomes.

Collecting Data and Monitoring Progress

Data collection is a vital aspect of discrete trial teaching as it allows for objective measurement of progress and informs instructional decisions. Here are some key points to consider when collecting data:

  1. Data Collection Methods: Determine the most suitable data collection method for tracking the learner's progress. This may involve using a simple tally sheet, a behavior tracking app, or specialized software designed for data collection in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).
  2. Data Recording: Consistently record the learner's responses and their accuracy during each discrete trial session. This data provides valuable insights into the learner's progress and helps identify areas that may require additional focus or modifications to the teaching approach.
  3. Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Regularly review and analyze the collected data to assess the learner's progress and make informed decisions about instructional adjustments. This analysis can guide future teaching strategies and help determine the effectiveness of the discrete trial teaching program.

By setting up an appropriate learning environment, breaking down skills into manageable steps, and collecting data to monitor progress, parents and educators can effectively implement discrete trial teaching and support the learner's development and growth.

Tips for Success with Discrete Trial Teaching

When implementing discrete trial teaching, there are several key tips to keep in mind to ensure success. These tips focus on creating a positive and supportive environment, utilizing reinforcement effectively, and collaborating with professionals.

Maintaining a Positive and Supportive Environment

Creating a positive and supportive environment is essential for effective discrete trial teaching. Here are some tips to achieve this:

  • Establish rapport: Build a strong relationship with the learner based on trust and mutual respect. This helps create a positive learning atmosphere.
  • Provide clear expectations: Clearly communicate the goals and expectations of each trial to the learner. This helps them understand what is expected of them and reduces anxiety.
  • Use positive language: Use positive and encouraging language to provide feedback and praise. This boosts the learner's confidence and motivation.
  • Offer breaks and rewards: Incorporate regular breaks and rewards to keep motivation high and create a positive reinforcement system.

Utilizing Reinforcement Effectively

Proper use of reinforcement is crucial in discrete trial teaching to motivate and reinforce desired behaviors. Consider the following tips:

  • Identify effective reinforcers: Determine what motivates the learner by observing their preferences and interests. Use these reinforcers consistently to maintain engagement and motivation.
  • Deliver reinforcement promptly: Provide reinforcement immediately after the desired response to strengthen the association between the behavior and the reward.
  • Use a variety of reinforcers: Keep a repertoire of different reinforcers to prevent satiation and maintain the effectiveness of reinforcement.
  • Gradually fade reinforcement: Over time, gradually reduce the frequency and intensity of reinforcement to promote independence and generalize skills.

Collaborating with Professionals

Collaboration with professionals, such as behavior analysts and educators, can greatly enhance the effectiveness of discrete trial teaching. Consider the following tips:

  • Seek guidance and supervision: Consult with a behavior analyst or supervisor to ensure proper implementation and receive feedback on your teaching techniques.
  • Attend training and workshops: Stay updated with the latest research and strategies related to discrete trial teaching by attending relevant training sessions and workshops.
  • Communicate with other professionals: Share information and collaborate with other professionals involved in the learner's education, such as teachers and therapists. This promotes a cohesive approach to the learner's development.

By maintaining a positive and supportive environment, utilizing reinforcement effectively, and collaborating with professionals, you can enhance the effectiveness of discrete trial teaching. Remember that every learner is unique, so it's important to adapt these tips to suit the individual needs and preferences of the learner you are working with.


Is DTT the only teaching technique used in ABA therapy?

No, DTT is just one of many teaching techniques used in ABA therapy. Other techniques include Natural Environment Teaching (NET), Pivotal Response Training (PRT), and Verbal Behavior (VB) Therapy. The specific techniques used will depend on the child's individual needs and goals.

How long does it typically take to see progress with DTT?

The amount of time it takes to see progress with DTT can vary depending on the child's individual needs and abilities. Some children may make rapid progress, while others may need more time and practice to master a skill. It is important to remember that progress is not always linear, and there may be ups and downs along the way.

Can parents use DTT at home?

Yes, parents can use DTT techniques at home to help reinforce learning and build skills. However, it is important to work closely with a qualified ABA therapist or professional to ensure that you are using the techniques correctly and effectively.

Are there any potential drawbacks or limitations to using DTT?

While DTT can be an effective teaching technique for many children, it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Some children may find the structured nature of DTT repetitive or boring, which could impact their motivation to learn.

Additionally, some critics argue that too much emphasis on discrete skills training could lead to a lack of focus on more functional, real-world skills. As with any treatment approach, it is important to weigh the potential benefits against any potential drawbacks or limitations before deciding if DTT is right for your child.


In conclusion, Discrete Trial Training is a valuable technique used in ABA therapy to help children with autism and other developmental disabilities learn new skills.

By breaking down complex skills into smaller steps and providing structured and repetitive practice, DTT helps to reinforce learning and encourage positive behaviors. If you're interested in learning more about DTT and how it can benefit your child, speak to a qualified ABA therapist today.