How to get started with ABA & DTT

Categories: ABA 101 | Data | Interventions

Today I want to break down how to get started with ABA and DTT in the classroom. It’s easier than you think, research based, and super effective. Adding it to your classroom routine isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds. With a few simple steps you can have it up and running in no time!

What’s DTT?

DTT or Discrete Trial Training is an ABA technique used to break down skills. Think of it as explicit scaffolding. Just like most things in the autism world, DTT is based on the ABC concept – Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence.


You’ll first set up a learning opportunity for the skill you are targeting. Perhaps you are targeting receptive color identification. You’ll provide an array of colors. This is the antecedent. Be specific when targeting your skill. Think about what you want the learner to do (that’s the b in the abc… behavior!). In this case, we want the learner to point to the color we name. 


Think specifically about what you want your learner to do. Here we wanted the learner to receptively identify the color green by pointing. What the learner does is the behavior. Vocal imitation, motor imitation, expressively identifying (tact), receptively identifying, requesting (mands), and intraverbals are all different skills. Confused yet? Don’t be – break it down like this for a block… 

Vocal Imitation: Say ‘block’ (antecedent) and learner repeats ‘block’ (behavior)

Motor imitation: Tell the learner ‘Do this” and stack two blocks (antecedent) and learner imitates your actions (behavior)

Expressively identifying (Tact): Hold up a block and ask the learner “what is this?” (antecedent) and learner says “block” (behavior)

Receptively identifying: Ask the learner to “point to block” (antecedent) and the learner points to block (behavior)

Requesting (Mands): Learner wants a block (antecedent, the key here is that the learner must be motivated!), asks for a block by saying ‘block’ (behavior), and gets a block (consequence).

Intraverbal: Ask the learner “what’s your favorite thing to build with blocks?” (antecedent) and learner says ‘a house’ (behavior)

Many people mix up mand and tact. The difference is the antecedent. If the learner wants popcorn and therefore says ‘popcorn’ and gets it – that’s mand. However if the learner sees popcorn, labels it popcorn, and gets a high five – that’s tact. Think of it as requesting vs. expressively labeling/identifying. 


This is what the learner receives after the behavior. There are two types of consequence; reinforcement (for correct answers) and correction (for incorrect responses). Your reinforcer should be strong! Everyone works for something!  So take some time to figure out the best reinforcer for your learner. Here the reinforcer is skittles. Read more about finding a strong reinforcer here.

There are a variety of error corrections you can choose from depending on your learner’s behavior and your antecedent. Sasha has a great post on error corrections here.

I know the skill I want to target… what’s next

Set up a binder

I know, I know! I love binders! I’ve done DTT for over 20 years and the best method for organization I’ve found is by using a binder. What’s in the binder?

1. A program guide that explains what skill you are working on and how you are working on it (the antecedent and behavior!). Find more on program guides here. I’d suggest putting these into a page protector opposite of the data sheet. Keep any cards you need in the page protector. Be sure to tell what the mastery criteria is and the sets you want to work in. 

2. A data sheet that’s easy to fill out. 

3. A three hole binder pouch with pencils so you’ll always have one handy!

Get a Storage Bin

I love milk crates, but do whatever works. Gather all of the materials your programs need and put the materials and the binder into the storage bin. You need to have everything you need at your fingertips. If you know the learner’s preferred reinforcer, add it so you have it on hand! 

This is one of my student’s bins. I put everything needed in the crate including the binder (I took it out so we could see inside). You can see he’s working on object permanence (we use the cups for hiding an object), taking turns (the puzzle), tracing numbers, motor imitation (the blocks) and he loves skittles and fruit snacks as a reinforcer (each in their own container to prevent contamination). 

Jump in!

Pull one student aside and try to decrease any distractions. Sit on your hands and don’t look at the correct answer! Kids are smart. Sometimes we inadvertently prompt learners with our hands or our eyes. I once had a student who learned to follow the teacher’s eyes because she always looked at the right answer! Make sure you mix things up and vary your language, too. When you start off, video yourself and watch it. Look for ways to improve. The more you do DTT the faster and better you’ll become. 

Need some resources to get started?

Check out the DTT sets from The Autism Helper! They come with editable program guides and data sheets. Everything you’ll need to succeed with DTT will be at your fingertips!

Discrete Trial Goal Sheets and Data Forms Set 1

Discrete Trial Goal Sheets and Data Forms Set 2

Discrete Trial Goal Sheets and Data Forms Set 3

Jen Koenig, B.S, M.Ed., LBS1
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  1. Great article. I have a question about selecting distractors. It’s always better to select 2 different distractors in a field of 3, but is it incorrect if I choose 2 different looking bed as distractors when working for dresser.

  2. It’s not incorrect, however you’d be setting the child up for a more simple task by providing two distractors that are similar. If you have a child who is struggling to grasp a concept, you can use two distractors that are the same or similar. To create a harder task, have more than two distractors that are all different.

  3. Got it.Thank you very much for your reply.

  4. You are an amazing teacher. You present your material in an easy to understand format. I will study you over the summer. You are a blessing to teachers and parents. I am a general ed teacher in a private school, my position is the learning specialist, which means all students with IEP’s belong to me. I would love to take classes but do not want to pay for it, given that I have a child in college and another approaching. Thank you so much for your service, you are making a difference across the world.


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