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Health and Fitness

DTT vs. PRT – What’s the Difference?

Applied behavior analysis was first introduced in the 1960s, which is now a gold standard treatment for DTT Autism and other developmental disorders. 

Discrete Trial Training and  Pivotal Response Training are both common techniques that are being widely used in ABA therapy in Chicago.

This article is going to focus on Discrete Trial Training (DTT) and Pivotal Response Training (PRT), and the difference between the two.

What is Discrete Trial Training (DTT)?

Discrete Trial Training is a type of training in therapy aimed at children to improve their behavior regarding skills. In simple words, DTT makes use of a simple process in order to teach a child a new skill, and repeat it until they learn the skill without needing any help. 

This type of training is designed in a way that aims at developing desired behavior by making use of reinforcements in order to motivate the child. For instance, reinforcement is used that might be the child’s favorite sweet, toy, or anything specific of high interest. 

Discrete Trial Training is usually used for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. And it has been quite effective in doing so.

What is Pivotal Response Training (PRT)?

If we talk about Pivotal Response Training, this type of training treats specific behaviors in children using a more naturalistic approach. 

In simple words, it is a behavioral treatment for children with Autistic Spectrum Syndrome. In most cases, this type of training is play-based and initiated by the child first. PRT approach has been used since the 1970s but was initially referred to as the Natural Language Paradigm (NLP).

The main goals of PRT include developing important skills in children such as communication and language skills, enhancing positive and desirable social behaviors in children, as well as eliminating disruptive self-stimulatory behaviors.

Therefore, PRT therapists work by aiming at “pivotal” areas of a child’s development, instead of targeting just one particular behavior. The most common pivotal areas in children may include motivation, self-management, and so on.

How Does Discrete Trial Training work?

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) works on the idea of teaching a child/children certain behaviors or skills by breaking those skills into smaller parts. This is done to make those specific skills easier to learn and to master.  

Discrete Trial Training makes use of repetition, so that the children learn a skill without needing any help in the future, and also that children may have more opportunities and chances to learn and repeat those new skills.  

Positive reinforcements and rewards are excessively used in DTT. Which further encourages and motivates children to learn new skills and retain them for good. 

Positive reinforcement and rewards are also used by therapists because the chances of a specific desired behavior repeating more frequently increases. Whereas a particular behavior that hasn’t been rewarded will have fewer chances of repetition (undesired behaviors).

Discrete Trial Training

Discrete Trial Training is commonly used to teach several skills in children, such as communication skills, language and speech skills, writing skills, sign language skills, skills for using basic communication devices, grooming and dressing up skills, skills of using simple tools and utensils, skills of following certain instruction, and much more.

Let’s take a look at this simple example- a child is given instruction to pick up a certain cup. The whole process will include instructions, such as ‘Pick up the cup’. A follow-up with the instruction may be needed, such as a physical or verbal prompt like pointing towards the cup to make the child understand easily.

Upon completion, the child is praised, and rewarded with something of their interest. This reward and positive reinforcement will ensure the child adheres to instructions more easily and quickly in the future.

If we talk about how intensive Discrete Trial Training can be, well, it can definitely be quite time-intensive. A considerable amount of time will be needed in order for children to learn and change specific behaviors. Moreover, sessions in therapy can involve numerous hours in a day. 

This extensive time period in each therapy session in a single day is crucial. So that children can repeat skills on their own, and also retain those skills. However, the overall therapy session will entirely depend upon the children’s specific goals and requirements. But, DTT can even last for as long as several years.

How Does Pivotal Response Training Work?

As mentioned above, Pivotal Response Training makes use of a more ‘natural’ way in order to treat specific behaviors in children. Let’s take a look at a simple example- a child has made a meaningful attempt in order to ask for a stuffed animal. 

Therefore, the reward or positive reinforcement for the child will be that stuffed animal, not anything else. Thus, children will always be rewarded for making a meaningful attempt, even if it was not perfect.

Pivotal Response Training is mainly provided by Psychologists, Speech Therapists, and Special education teachers. Each program is individualized for each child, in order for it to be more effective. And meet the goals, needs, and requirements of every child. 

Moreover, a training session will most commonly include six segments. If we talk about skills that include language, play, and other social skills. These are aimed at both structured and unstructured interactions.

Also, a PRT program will usually require 25 or more hours each week. Depending upon the child and their needs and goals.

 Difference Between Discrete Trial Training and Pivotal Response Training

The main way both the training techniques are different from each other is the structure. If we talk about Pivotal Response Training, it is less structured as compared to Discrete Trial Training. 

The latter basically follows a structure that aims to build certain skills in children. While Pivotal Response Training follows a more naturalistic approach, that too through child play. 

In addition to that, Pivotal Response Training is mostly initiated by children. This means that the overall therapy session will be led by the motivation of that particular child. For Instance, if a child is interested in playing with a particular toy, the therapist will teach the child ways of enhancing and learning important communication and social skills in order to finally ask to play with that toy.


CAITIE C. is a digital marketing and SEO Expert working for multiple organizations to boost their business and online presence.

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