Discrete Trial Training in ABA: Explained

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This paper is an exploration of the potential and theoretical benefits of a discrete trial training program. The primary goal is to provide researchers with a greater understanding into how, when, and why this type of intervention may be beneficial for children on the autism spectrum.

Discrete trial training is a type of behavioral therapy that is used to teach children with autism how to interact with their environments. It was originally developed by ABA therapists and has since been adopted by other professionals. Read more in detail here: pros and cons of discrete trial training.


Discrete trial training is a sort of applied behavior analysis-based training (ABA). The purpose is to teach autistic people how to react correctly in different circumstances. This may help to improve relationships, communication, and general life quality.

The ABCs of Personality

Discrete trial training uses what PsychCentral calls “The ABCs of Personality”: Antecedent-behavior-consequence.

The ABCs are an important part of how applied behavior analysis treatment works. According to this theory, conduct is divided into three stages: the Antecedent (the cue, prompt, or instruction); the behavior itself; and the consequence (here, consequence denotes “outcome,” as opposed to the negative meaning).

Eating is a basic example. The Antecedent is being hungry; the activity is eating something; and the outcome is feeling satisfied or full. This is what a registered behavior technician would call a positive consequence for the behavior, and it increases the likelihood that a person will naturally repeat these steps when they are hungry in the future — perhaps without even thinking of hunger-eating-satisfaction as an Antecedent-behavior-response process.

This idea is utilized in applied behavior analysis to induce and promote beneficial behavior changes. It’s often utilized in autism treatment, but it’s also used in other fields to assist clients acquire desired behavior, which may range from lifestyle modifications to impulse control.

Human conduct is based on it. Certain actions are more or less likely to repeat as a result of rewards or penalties.

Every day, millions of individuals experience the Antecedent-behavior-consequence paradigm. For youngsters on the autism spectrum, however, acquiring this pattern of understanding and then applying it in social circumstances either does not occur or occurs in a very restricted and basic form.

ABA Discrete Trial Training

Discrete trial training (DTT) breaks down a client’s behavior into tiny, discrete blocks (or components) that are reinforced using specified procedures and sequences. The ultimate objective is to achieve a single, overall intended behavior.

Chaining refers to the process of connecting a number of distinct talents in this manner.

Each autistic kid has their own interpretation of a complicated behavior that must be broken down. This may be anything from completing a complete day from sunrise to sunset without having a meltdown to completing a single task like taking a bath without having a tantrum.

Parents and caregivers confront the difficult task of encouraging each little win in order to attain a final favorable result. The more steps an action involves, the more difficult it is to wait for the last step to reward you, since the system will not encourage immediate stages. It also won’t provide you a good means to deal with any improper conduct that arises throughout the process.

Discrete trial training may aid in this situation. DTT is a therapeutic method for certified behavior technicians to identify and reinforce actions with complex Antecedents or effects (for example, how to behave in a social setting with particular rules). In every given social context, there are several signs that neurotypical individuals take for granted or fail to perceive. Those with autism spectrum disorders will very certainly face a variety of obstacles, ranging from noise levels to behavior, from performing in the manner that is expected of them in that scenario to understanding what to do next.

Discrete trial training breaks down all of the tasks into distinct components, each of which is extensively discussed and performed, with the RBT providing clear and easy guidance at every step. The last phase of DTT is to connect all of these processes together to produce the whole sequence of events that make up the social context in which the client is suffering.

What is the Process of Discrete Trial Training?

There are five phases in every discrete trial training process:

  1. Antecedent

  2. Prompt

  3. Response

  4. The response’s consequence (right or wrong)

  5. The time between trials

Discrete trial training is also employed in circumstances when the behavior does not seem to be complicated yet other applied behavior analysis approaches are unable to assist a client in adopting such habits. Clients with low-functioning autism, for example, might benefit from DTT in learning apparently basic actions like asking another person if they can share a toy. A discrete trial can include learning the sounds of each individual word in order to make the request, or understanding the ideas of making the request and then participating in mutual playing.

The therapist will provide the client suggestions in a discrete trial training session that are especially geared to bring forth suitable behavioral responses. When a customer responds well, they are rewarded in order to positively reinforce that behavior. Praise, sweets, or the ability to paint, play with a toy, or watch a cartoon for a brief period might be used as a reward. When the kid responds inappropriately, the RBT will gently reprimand the youngster and attempt the request again.

The goal of this method is to mold the replies by guiding the client to perceive the prompts as part of a series of suitable behavioral patterns rather than as random signals and antecedents. Many youngsters will learn to regulate their conduct on their own thanks to the framework provided by discrete trial training.

In DTT, prompting

Prompts may take many distinct forms in discrete trial training. A complete gestural prompt is one in which the therapist gives a verbal cue — such as “point to blue,” which means “point to the blue item on the table” — and then instantly points at the object. This successfully instructs the client, but it also mimics the behavior that results in reward.

The therapist may use a different kind of prompt after the client learns how this works. This might be a gesture cue in part. The therapist only half points the blue object after stating “point to blue.” The client should know to totally point at the blue object and earn the reward since the therapist has modeled the required skill and there is an expectation of Reinforcement.

This may go on indefinitely without the need for prompting. The client understands how to choose the proper item from the table based only on the therapist’s verbal cue. 

Intensive Treatment

Discrete trial training has been a major contributor to the effectiveness of applied behavior analysis in the treatment of children on the autistic spectrum. It is, however, a lot of labor.

DTT is an Intensive Treatment regimen, and it can be very time consuming. Even under ideal circumstances, DTT sessions would be scheduled five days a week, lasting up to 40 hours in total, as a registered behavior technician works with a client on every minute step of the interaction and situation that needs to be conceptualized.

Discrete trial treatment is a time-consuming and often difficult process. Much of it consists of simple repetition until the necessary abilities have been mastered and shown. It is the therapist’s obligation to progress with new abilities at whatever rate the client can handle, regardless of how long that takes. A skilled registered behavior technician will also be able to see when a client is losing attention so that they may attempt a different method or interrupt the session briefly.

Another example of discrete trial training is when a therapist teaches a client colors. If the color is red, for example, the therapist will encourage the kid to point to a red item and praise him or her for properly recognizing it. When the client has mastered antecedent-behavior-consequence with that color, the therapist may combine the exercise with red and yellow objects to assist the client distinguish between the two. This will be critical in assisting the client in comprehending real-world circumstances such as red safety signals or bright yellow warning signs. 


Discrete trials are meticulously planned to guarantee that each experiment is conducted in the same manner. If a phase in the process fails, the trial’s similar nature enables a therapist to pinpoint the issue and tweak the strategy somewhat.

The way reinforcement is given is one example of this. If one therapist provided a complete gestural cue while the other used a partial gestural prompt, the client may struggle to understand the notion of consequences and may not learn the skill being taught in the trial. It’s also difficult to discern which of the many gestural suggestions is more effective.

ABA practitioners may adjust and individualize their programs as much as they need to be best successful for their clients by standardizing discrete trials at every level of the process.

DTT & Learning

Children with autism spectrum disorders show a lack of curiosity in learning new things. In their neurotypical classmates, this level of curiosity develops more organically.

Children with autism typically find it difficult to learn through watching others or exploring their surroundings. They won’t be able to talk, play, or interact with people readily.

Discrete trial training may help with this. It is particularly developed to enhance a child’s drive to learn if they have autism. Each trial is brief, enabling the youngster to complete a number of trials and master new skills before needing a break.

DTT’s one-on-one technique allows the program to be totally tailored to the requirements of each client. As the client matures, therapists may adjust the curriculum. Discrete trial training enables the therapist to properly adapt the practice to what works best for the particular client since there is no one-size-fits-all method that works for everyone.

DTT’s procedural orientation provides a feeling of clarity for the client, allowing it to function within the confines of their autistic skills. Each trial has a distinct beginning and end, with prompts and antecedents limited to a manageable and suitable level.

Discrete Trial Training’s Success

Separate trial treatment enhances the accomplishments of clients who get the therapy while minimizing their failures by splitting tasks into discrete trials. It aids clients in the development of strong learning and association abilities that they may use throughout their life.


This article provides a detailed example of how discrete trial teaching can be used in ABA. Reference: discrete trial teaching aba example.

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