Discrete Trial Training and Autism Ranking: Limited positive evidence

Aims and Claims


According to Reynolds and Dombeck (2006), the main aim of discrete trial training is to teach the learner how to pay attention and how to communicate.

"Therapists are ultimately interested in getting children to pay attention to task learning and in developing their ability to respond appropriately to communication. Letters, numbers and object labeling skills are thus acquired as a byproduct of discrete trials training. Because communicative skills are basic and fundamental and must be present before more complex social skills can be taught, they are taught early on in the process."

Once these basic skills have been taught, the learner is ready to acquire other skills, such as dressing, eating, making a bed etc. However, acquiring communication is often considerably more complicated than this and is often the main lifelong learning need for children with significant autism


 There have been various claims made for discrete trial training. For example

  • Grindle and Remington,  2002; Jones Feeley and Takacs, 2007; and Miranda-LinnĂ© and Melin, 1992  reported improvements in communication skills
  • Jones, Carr, and Feeley, 2006 reported improvements in joint attention, alongside improvements in expressive language and social-communication
  • Newman et al. 2002 reported improvements in skill acquisition
  • Taubman et al, 2001 reported improvements in the acquisition of educational skills
  • Sigafoos and Saggers, 1995 reported that the discrete-trial approach presented a useful technique for the functional analysis of challenging behavior

According to a review by Smith (2001)

"'For children with autism, DTT is especially useful for teaching new forms of behavior (e.g., speech sounds or motor movements that the child previously could not make) and new discriminations (e.g., responding correctly to different requests). DTT can also be used to teach more advanced skills and manage disruptive behavior."

In practice, DTT often produces changes in very specific skills, such as naming things like objects or colours, rather than changes in broader skills, such as communication as a whole.

31 Oct 2017
Last Review
30 Mar 2016
Next Review
01 Mar 2019