Discrete Trial Teaching: 5 Advantages Parents Should Know

Reviewed by:

March 7, 2022

Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) is commonly used in ABA therapy to break down activities to their fundamental components to teach important skills to children with autism.

Children with autism can struggle to master fundamental skills. Discrete Trial Teaching, teaches abilities through an organized ladder of tiny, easily-taught components. 

This process was created in the 1970s by Doctor Ivar Lovaas to help children learn required skills through repetition.

What is the purpose of Discrete Trial Teaching?

Many new skills can be taught through Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) such as:

  • Speech and language abilities
  • Sign language or other methods of communication
  • Writing skills
  • Dressing, using utensils, following directions, and other everyday life skills

What are the training steps of DTT?

The five steps present in each DTT trial are:

  1. Antecedent
  2. Prompt
  3. Response
  4. The consequence for the response (correct or incorrect)
  5. Interval between trials


The antecedent is a concise, straightforward instruction that informs a child of the next activity. This assists the child in linking a given direction and a suitable answer. One example is, when a teacher says, "what is this?", before asking a child to name an object.

The prompt

The prompt is when a teacher provides the child with the proper reaction to guide the proper response or action. Prompts are not always offered to the child, but they can help children remember the correct response. 


The response is the reaction the child has to a specific stimulus. The targeted response is established prior to the training so it is clear what the correct response is.


The consequence will differ depending on the accuracy of the response:

Correct response: A positive reward is instantly given for a correct response. The incentive is frequently presented to the child ahead of time so that they are aware of what they will earn. The reward might be verbal praise, edible (such as a preferred snack), or a token from a behavior modification system (e.g., a star that goes toward whatever they are earning). Before each trial, the nature and amount of the reward are clearly stated.

Incorrect response: When a child delivers an incorrect response, he or she is simply corrected. The trainer strives to maintain as much neutrality as possible by not rewarding or punishing the student. 

Inter-Trial Interval (ITI)

The Inter-Trial Interval is DTT's final stage and follows the consequence. It marks the end of one trial and the beginning of a new one and should take no more than five seconds in most cases. Quick repetition helps make the learning process more effective.

DTT program skills training

Attention - Children with autism may have limited attention spans when they first start a program. DTT breaks down activities into short, uncomplicated trials. Interactions may only last a few seconds at the start of a program. The length of the trials increases in tandem with the child's attention span.

Motivation - One distinction between typically developing children and those with autism is that the latter are less likely to be driven by intrinsic motivation. DTT is used to increase motivation by rewarding desired actions and task completion with physical or external reinforcement (ex: edibles, toys, and playing). External reinforcement is frequently used with praise, which may eventually take the place of tangible rewards.

Communication - Children with autism frequently lack expressive and receptive communication skills. The instructions in DTT are delivered in a basic, succinct, and unambiguous way at first. The instructions might grow more complicated as the child's language repertoire develops.

Generalization -The ability to apply a behavior or skill across several situations or to a variety of related actions is often challenging. As a result, the instructions in DTT programs are meant to vary over time, both in terms of substance (the instructions wording) and context (who is delivering the command, where it is being delivered, and when it is being given).

The advantages of Discrete Trial Instruction (DTT)

1. Structural clarity

The DTT structure establishes a predictable learning framework. The pattern will emerge as a child adjusts to the method, and training sessions will become more effective.

2. Improved concentration

DTT helps children become more focused. When a child receives positive reinforcement at the end of a successful trial, he or she is more likely to pay attention to the entire procedure.

3. Adaptable model

A DTT session can take place in a variety of environments, including at home, school, or outdoors as a one-on-one learning technique. It's vital to remember that this is a deliberate learning technique, therefore the adult must prepare ahead in every situation.

4. Interactive learning

DTT is an interactive technique that may be used in a variety of situations, allowing for simpler transitions between them. Transitioning from home to school, for example, can be difficult for children with autism. This teaching method helps children learn new abilities in different situations so that they can be successful in any activity. When the pattern is used regularly, it may be transferred to the classroom. 

5. From basic to modern

DTT is a useful method for breaking down difficult learning into easily understandable chunks. Successful attempts can enhance a child's confidence and encourage them to take on new challenges.

Is Discrete Trial Teaching effective?

Discrete trial teaching (DTT) has been shown to improve the behavior of children with autism in high-quality studies. When DTT is paired with other ABA strategies, children have achieved even higher success rates.


Discrete Trial Teaching is a short, step-by-step intervention designed to help children perfect a certain ability as quickly as feasible. Its emphasis on positivity and brevity enables the effective molding of critical behavior in a manner that is quickly absorbed. For almost 50 years, it has been a critical process in supporting children with autism.

Songbird therapy is a technology-enabled provider setting a higher standard for children’s autism care. With a deeply passionate team and innovative technology, we’re building a world where every child can access world-class care at home, uniquely tailored to them.