The science of Behavior Analysis is comprised of three branches: Behaviorism, Experimental Analysis of Behavior, and of course, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) with the last more focused on applying researched concepts to promote socially-significant behavior. From ABA comes the multitude of research-based therapies or interventions which include Discrete Trial Training, Pivotal Response Training, Natural Environment Training, and Incidental Teaching to name a few.
Developed by Ivar Lovass at the University of California in Los Angeles, Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is perhaps the most widely-known ABA-based therapy for individuals living with ASD. DTT, as the name suggests, simplifies a teaching step into three parts: the instruction, the response specified by the instruction, and the consequence that depends on whether the learner performed the specified response or not. Not only does DTT break down learning into this short, clear three-part instruction, but it also builds in the repetition/intensity at which these trials are given to teach one concept, for example, responding to the instruction, “What is your name?” DTT is very useful when it comes to teaching factual information (e.g., learning the alphabet, someone’s address, names, lyrics to a song, et cetera); however, it may be limited when it comes to teaching more abstract concepts (e.g., mathematical operations) or comprehension (e.g., understanding a paragraph the learner just read).
Developed by Robert Koegel and Lynn Koegel at the University of California in Santa Barbara, Pivotal Response Training (PRT) is another ABA-based therapy for individuals living with ASD. PRT focuses on tapping into a learner’s motivation, teaching the learner to respond to multiple cues, encouraging learner- initiated behaviors, self-management, and empathy development. In contrast with DTT which may appear very contrived and unnatural, PRT takes place in a learner’s natural environment which includes the participation of the learner’s family or caregivers with treatment coordinated across all of the learner’s environment (e.g., home, school, community). As mentioned, the key element in a PRT program is the learner’s naturally occurring motivation which significantly increases social validity of the teaching instructions and skills learned as the consequences corresponds with the behavior learned via PRT.
Natural Environment Teaching (NET) is an ABA-based therapy wherein a target behavior to be taught is identified, a learner’s preferred items or activities are identified, the antecedent for the behavior to be taught is contrived, and the proper consequence delivered contingent on whether the learner performed the target behavior or not. In a way, it can be similar to PRT as both do implement the teaching opportunities in the natural environment; however, that’s where the similarities end as PRT is more comprehensive. Not to say NET is the weaker of the two—choosing between the two depends on what goal is to be achieved by the learner.
Incidental Teaching (IT) is an ABA-based therapy similar to Natural Environment Teaching (NET); however, the biggest difference is teaching opportunities are not contrived or intentionally triggered by the instructor. These naturally occurring situations that includes the learner’s motivation to get or accomplish something makes it a potent teaching technique as, like PRT, the consequence or the “reward” for performing a behavior is directly tied-in with the reward for doing the behavior. For example, after walking a couple of blocks, the learner naturally feels thirst. The learner grabs for the water bottle held by the instructor at which time, the instructor provides the learner prompts to communicate “water please.” Upon performing the action, the learner gets the water bottle.
As you may have noticed, there is a difference between DTT and PRT/NET/IT as DTT appears to be very limited in scope albeit the teaching technique being intense in delivery whereas PRT/NET/IT appear to be more in-tune with teaching socially significant behaviors taught in a more natural setting. True. However, it is very rare for an ABA-based service or program to be solely based on a single ABA-based intervention. Depending on the goals of the ABA-program for your child, the ABA professional may use two or all of the four examples we have gone over or perhaps even more not covered by this blog (e.g., FCT, TA, shaping, et cetera).
For more information regarding this topic, we do encourage you to speak with your ABA provider or email us at [email protected]