Updated: 2022, Sep 26

4 Key Aspects of the ABA Technique Known as Discrete Trial You Must Know

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is used to help children on the autism spectrum master basic abilities using small, easily-taught components.

While children with ASD react differently than neurotypical children, they also have their own unique set of challenges, skills, and strengths. ABA therapy distinguishes each child’s individual strengths and weaknesses and targets those particular nuances through psychological intervention.

4 Key Aspects of the ABA Technique Known as Discrete Trial You Must Know
A discrete trial is made up of three components: The Antecedent, a Response, and a Consequence. Image/Shutterstock

In this post, we will look at one of the standard intervention techniques used by Hidden Talents ABA, known as the discrete trial.

The discrete trial consists of three stages. The first is an SD or discriminative stimulus, a form of instruction given to the child to elicit a response. The second stage is where the child responds to that instruction. The final stage is to reinforce or correct that response.

Initiating the Trial with a Discriminative Stimulus (SD)

An SD can be an oral or a nonverbal stimulus, such as a toy. An effective SD must adhere to a few guidelines to efficiently deliver the stimulus. Let’s look at those guidelines.

  • Speak consistently and clearly.
  • Instructions should be concise and avoid extraneous details.
  • The therapist‘s voice must be a bit louder than normal while maintaining a positive and happy tone.

The Child’s Response to the Therapist’s Prompt

The therapist must provide the child with a cue instantly if they notice that the child is struggling to give a response. Here, the ‘cue’ is a form of assistance for the child to come up with the right response.

This is followed by the gradual removal of the cue for the particular trial. It is done when the therapist realizes that the child doesn’t require the cue anymore.

Reinforcement or Correction

After the SD and the prompt, the child may respond correctly or incorrectly. Here, the therapist will provide reinforcement, or if the child responds incorrectly, they will apply a corrective measure.

While providing the child with reinforcement, therapists must keep a few key things in mind for achieving the best results.

  • The reinforcement or the reward must instantly follow the correct response.
  • Secondly, they should give the reinforcement enthusiastically. This will encourage children to appreciate the reinforcement even more and work towards improvement.
  • Finally, reinforcement efforts should be diverse. Using similar reinforcement techniques over and again will reduce the chances of improvement of an autistic child.

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Incorrect Responses

Let’s look at a scenario wherein the child might respond incorrectly. There are two general ways to solve incorrect responses.

  • Generally, an incorrect response from the child is reciprocated by a ‘NO’ in a neutral voice instead of providing reinforcement. Therapists should see to it that the ‘NO’ doesn’t come out in an aversive or punishing manner. This provides neutral information to help the child recognize that their response was incorrect and will not be rewarded.
  • Another approach is to leave out the informational ‘NO’. With this approach, if the child gives an incorrect response, the therapist takes a pause without giving reinforcement but does not say ‘NO’ either.

The therapist then initiates a completely new discrete trial with both of these approaches.


*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

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To summarize, the discrete trial process starts with a discriminative stimulus to induce a response from the child. The therapist either waits for the child’s response or provides a prompt if required to aid the child in coming up with the right response. Once this is achieved, the therapist will provide the child with a reward to let them know they did a great job, solidifying their recognition power and improving their learning capabilities.

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Claire Polansky, Ph.D. M.A.

Claire Polansky is a content writer for Tel Aviv University and a freelance writer deeply committed to health, animal welfare, and soci

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