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MODULE: Discrete Trial Training (DTT)

What Is Discrete Trial Training (DTT)?

In early studies using DTT Dr. Ivar Lovaas (Lovaas, Berberich, Perloff & Schafer, 1966; Lovaas, Koegel, Simmons & Long, 1973; Lovaas, Schreibman & Koegel, 1974) used very specific procedures to teach children. The main method that Lovaas used is called discrete trial training or DTT. DTT is a method based on the principle of breaking behavior down into separate (discrete) steps that have a clear beginning, middle and end. This is called a “single teaching unit” or learning trial. Trials are often repeated several times and the child is rewarded for answering correctly. It was previously thought that DTT could only take place in a 1:1 setting at a table with no distractions. While there are certainly many DTT programs that are set-up this way, we now know that there are other options. DTT can be done in classrooms or homes. It can even be done in the community. In fact, one of the findings of Lovaas’ study was that when DTT is implemented in multiple environments there is generalization or use of the skills in different settings. One common misuse of the term is to refer to DTT as ABA or vice-versa. As mentioned above, ABA refers to the science of learning principles to teach or alter behavior that will improve one’s quality of life. DTT embodies those teaching approaches but is just one method – using massed trials, discrimination training, reinforcement and didactic instruction - within the umbrella of ABA to impact behavior.

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