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What is Discrete Trial Training under the umbrella of ABA?

At the core of ABA is Discrete Trial Training (DTT), a series of events aimed at teaching new information using positive reinforcement. This chain of events can be used to teach vocabulary, enhance communication and encourage the use of behaviour.

The chain of events is as follows: Instruction → Response → Reinforcement.

When starting a trial, make sure the instruction is simple, clear, and given in a slightly louder voice. Try to use consistent wording so as to not confuse the child, especially if it is a new instruction. If we are trying to teach a child to wear their shoes, rather than saying “it’s time to put on shoes”, break the task up and start by saying, “undo your shoelaces” “put your right/left foot in” and “tie up your shoelaces”. Note that in each instance, the laces were called “shoelaces”. This prevents confusion and helps the child to learn the word “shoelaces”.

Sometimes, a child is still learning the Instruction and won’t respond as they should. In this case, Prompting is required to help a child do the task correctly. Prompting can be done using hands and visual aids. Back to the shoelace example, if the child doesn’t respond to the Instruction “undo your shoelaces”, repeat the instruction and tap on the laces to draw the connection between your words and the action that needs to be done. We can even take this further and put up a picture with the Instruction to provide a visual aid the child can refer to.

Once the desired response is done, it is best to use positive reinforcement to encourage the child to continue doing this response. Usually, parents praise their children when they do a task, but children with autism do not enjoy praise and social interaction. Instead, the Reinforcement should be something they enjoy, like snacks, toys or a beloved activity. If our child puts on their shoes successfully, we can pair praises with a small piece of a cookie. It is important to note that the Reinforcement should be varied. Using the same Reinforcement might result in the child losing interest. You can use different snacks or a special toy reserved only for rewards (like blowing bubbles), or you can just allow time to engage in behaviours the child enjoys (like stacking blocks).

The cycle of Instruction → Response → Reinforcement can help bring some structure to your child’s life and help them learn new tasks and information. For a visual guide on the Discrete Trial, the following video can provide more help: ABA Autism Training - Chapter 1 - The Discrete Trial.



University of New Brunswick. (2012, February 07). ABA Autism Training - Chapter 1 - The Discrete Trial. Retrieved December 16, 2020, from


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