Educational Section


Discrete trial training, (DTT), is the very basis of learning, providing the equation which makes learning happen: the ABC or Antecedent – Behaviour – Consequence sequence which comprises each trial, or unit of learning. As you are all aware it is what we teach at ISADD, and this is what has brought success to many of our children.

Recently there has been a lot of negative press for DTT. Much focuses on blaming DTT for being too rigid and too teacher oriented, and some even say it is cruel as it imposes adult will on the child. Most of this criticism is rubbish and people who understand DTT cannot agree. The children enjoy the DTT sessions if they are properly conducted. Unfortunately, like anything that is powerful, it can be misused. This happens as people try to cope with the influx of children needing services to reduce symptoms of ASD. Many have failed to see DTT as the basic unit of learning which needs to be built on, and see it as the sole solution. It can then be criticised for not achieving all that is needed as skills learnt in the artificial setting of a therapy session will be lost if not supported.

We see DTT as the foundation block for teaching children with ASD, which then needs to be extended without compromising the basic principles involved. Critics say that skills learnt are rigid, not applicable to the natural setting and are soon forgotten, and instead they put forward more natural ways of teaching. I see that as yet another insult to the parents who have provided a natural environment and have not achieved the desired results.

Learning does not stop with the achievement of the first response. That response needs to be practiced often till it will be maintained over time. Without this maintenance practice it will be forgotten. If we can only afford a few hours of therapy then it must be practiced by the family.

It also needs to be generalised to new setting, new people, new situations. Without generalisation it will not be used outside the therapy session. The child needs to learn to recognise a wider range of situations that require him/her to act, and he/she needs a wider repertoire of responses. These cannot be easily achieved in the therapy session. Parent need to come to the party and take up the challenge. We call this incidental learning, but there is nothing incidental about it. Parent who are aware of the program and the child’s current gains are able to engineer situations to achieve more practice and more generalisation for those new skills. They will be working to a purpose relying on the simple ABC equation of DTT but this will not be obvious to the casual observer.

For learning to be generalized outside the original learning environment it needs to be practiced:

  • at different times
  • with different material
  • in different places
  • with different people
  • as often as is possible

Only the family can undertake that and incorporate it into daily family life and interaction. It may not be easy, but it can be achieved. Next the child needs to find his/her responses functional and of benefit, else constant reinforcing will be needed to maintain them and the child will not become independent, the behaviours will not be intrinsically motivating. Independence is what every parent wants for their child, but at the same time there is a parental need to protect the child. Balance is needed. Most of the children we work with could be more independent in so many little ways and that would raise their self image.

To ensure skills are functional and self maintaining in all settings:

  • teach skills which will meet long term needs
  • teach prerequisite skills and link to skills needed later
  • achieve generalization in all areas
  • set up situations to make the prerequisite skills functional to the child
  • demonstrate to child how skills can be of benefit to him/her in the broader community setting.

The long task of reducing the effects of the ASD starts with DTT. These skills then need to be generalized to the natural setting and practiced. They need to lead to independence as the child recognises their functional value. Then and only then, can we say that we no longer need to teach. The child will be self motivating, coping in the natural environment, gaining reinforcement from his/her natural setting.



autism services and support, australia
autism services and support, australia

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