Examples of ABA Therapy for Autism

Written by: Natalie Roberts, RBT
Reviewed by: Melanie Bren, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA

ABA, or applied behavior analysis is considered to be the most optimal form of treatment for children diagnosed with Autism. This can mean a lot of things, however, as there are various different forms of ABA and how it is used as treatment. Examples of ways that ABA therapy is implemented is through discrete trial training (DTT), errorless teaching, and natural environment teaching (NET).

Discrete Trial Training in ABA Therapy

Discrete trial training (DTT), also known as discrete trial instruction (DTI) is one teaching style and example used in ABA therapy. The purpose of discrete trial training is to break down skills into smaller, or more discrete components that allows for quicker success. This process of structuring skills into more achievable, smaller components, facilitates children to learn necessary and helpful abilities that benefit them.

Some skills used during discrete trial training include listener behavior (commands and selection), tacting (labeling), motor imitation, visual performance (matching, sorting, etc.), intraverbal behavior (fill-ins, sometimes “wh” questions), and echoic responses.

The Five Components of Discrete Trial Training/Discrete Trial Instruction
  1. Discriminative stimulus: this is a clear and brief instruction presented to the learner
    • Ex: therapist says “touch your head”
  2. Prompt: a prompt will be provided by the therapist if necessary
    • Ex: physical, vocal, gestural
    • *note that least intrusive prompts are prioritized
  3. Response: the learner responds
    • the learner touches their head
  4. Consequence: the therapist either delivers a reinforcer if the correct answer was emitted, or the error correction procedure is implemented if the incorrect response is emitted
  5. Inter-trial-interval (ITI): this is the time that passes between the consequence for one response and the presentation of the next antecedent

Types of Prompting used in Discrete Trial Training/Discrete Trial Instruction

  1. Physical prompting
    • Full physical
      • Generally, involves hand over hand guidance to complete the instruction presented
    • Partial physical
      • Slight guidance through part of the instruction. This is a less intrusive method of physical prompting
  2. Gestural prompting
    • Participating in gestured prompts such as pointing or nodding
  3. Modeling prompting
    • Demonstrate correct implementation of instruction
  4. Verbal prompt
    • Full vocal prompt
      • Vocally telling the learner the answer
    • Phonetic prompt
      • Giving the learner a vocal hint of the beginning of the correct answer
  5. Textual prompt
    • A written prompt

Important Components of Quality Discrete Trial Training/Discrete Trial Instruction

There are various ways to ensure that this method of ABA therapy is done well. Firstly, ensuring that the inter-trial-interval (ITI), or the time between the consequence and the presentation of the next antecedent stimulus, is as short as possible. This ensures that the learner is remaining focused and on-task, data suggests that there are more successful responses when inter-trial-intervals are low.

Next is delivering a reinforcer as fast as possible so the learner associates it with the response emitted. Pairing the table so that the learner is in an environment set up for success is also important. Making sure that the type of task and the difficulty of response are varied is also a component of quality DTT/DTI and promotes generalization (when a learner is able to apply something learned for one situation to a similar situation). Finally, implementing errorless teaching procedures to ensure the correct response is the response given by the learner.

The ABA Therapy Method of Errorless Teaching 

Errorless teaching is a method of ABA therapy in which the teacher ensures that the learner correctly answers the instruction provided. The idea behind errorless teaching is learning through repetition to successfully answer the instruction and eventually the skill that is intended to learn. An error occurs when the learner either emits an incorrect response, chains two of more responses together, or fails to respond within 3-5 seconds following the instruction presented.

The two types of Errorless Teaching

  1. Errorless teaching
    • Used on skills that have been probed and confirmed that the learner is currently unable to do the skill independently
  2. Error correction procedure
    • Used when there is an error after a time delay is conducted

The four components of Errorless Teaching

  1. Prompt: Present the instruction and immediately prompt the correct response and allow the learner to respond
  2. Transfer: Re-present the instruction and allow the learner a 2-3 second time delay to respond
  3. Distractor: Instruct the learner to participate in 1-2 skills that they already know/are mastered
  4. Probe: Re-present the initial instruction being taught and allow the response to be emitted to ensure the child retains the skill that was just taught
Natural Environment Teaching (NET) ABA Therapy

Natural environment teaching (NET), another example of ABA therapy, is teaching based off of the current motivation of the learner. Therefore, all the instructions presented by the teacher and responses by the learner are all related to whatever items or activities that are valuable to the learner in that moment. This can include toys, games, activities, etc.).

Natural environment teaching promotes generalization. Data suggests that the most effective teaching of language is through various settings throughout the day in various circumstances.

NET also encourages more natural responding. By implementing natural environment teaching the learner is always motivated and that allows faster acquisition of skills. It is a great condition for teaching manding (requesting) and is associated with less problem behavior due to being based off of current interest and motivation.

By implementing these procedures in everyday life, it encourages the learner to understand the function of what they are learning rather than just words. NET can create ample opportunities for learning.

For example, if your learner enjoys rolling a ball to knock down pins, there are various learning opportunities. A therapist may have the child mand (request) for the ball back after each roll and can require eye-contact during the mand to promote social skills. The therapist can incorporate other motor imitation skills or teach the child to tact (label) the colors of the ball and pins. Additionally, the therapist can create echoic opportunities and teach the child to say brand new words. Finally, NET is an ideal way to incorporate peer interactions and teach appropriate turn-taking skills.

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