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ABA and DTT Are NOT the Same

by Darcy Schiller

Clarification of a Common Misconception

It is not uncommon to hear the terms ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) and DTT (Discrete Trial Training) used synonymously. They are not the same. We want Texas educators to be able to define concepts and interventions with clarity when speaking with parents, team members, administrators, even the person behind you in line at the grocery store.

ABA uses strategies based on the principles of learning theory. It is a scientifically validated approach to understanding behavior. The approach is based on the theory that behavior can be shaped by understanding and altering the antecedent (what happens right before the behavior) and the consequence (what happens right after the behavior).

Many interventions fall under the umbrella of ABA therapy. DTT is only one of the many. Some of the Evidence-Based Practices (EBPs) identified by the National Professional Development Center for Autism Spectrum Disorder that are ABA strategies include Reinforcement, Differential Reinforcement, Prompting, Antecedent-Based Interventions, Pivotal Response Training, and DTT (Wong, et al, 2014).

Saying that ABA and DTT are the same is like saying a rectangle and a square are the same.

All DTT is ABA, but not all ABA is DTT, just like all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.

In this analogy, ABA strategies are rectangles, with DTT being a type of ABA, like a square is a type of rectangle.

Some view ABA as the be-all and end-all for the education and treatment of people with autism, especially since the U.S. Surgeon General endorsed the program in his report on mental health in 1999 (Satcher, 1999). Decades of research exists today reporting positive outcomes for those who have received ABA therapy. However, the most effective therapies and interventions are different for each person given the varied and unique characteristics of autism and how they manifest differently in each person on the spectrum. There are evidence-based practices that are not under the ABA umbrella. These EBPs also meet the criteria to be identified as strategies we know produce successful outcomes.

In the Autism Circuit Academy EBP program, we cover each of the 27 EBPs. Some of the 27 are ABA strategies and some are not. They all work!

Many EBPs fall under the ABA umbrella.
Many, but not all, EBPs fall under the ABA umbrella.

Satcher, D. (1999). Mental health: A report of the surgeon general. U.S. Public Health Service. Bethesda, MD.

Wong, C., Odom, S. L., Hume, K. Cox, A. W., Fettig, A., Kucharczyk, S., … Schultz, T. R. (2014). Evidence-Based Practices for Children, Youth, and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, Autism Evidence-Based Practice Review Group.

*Darcy Schiller, M.S., CTP-E, is the Autism Education Specialist at Education Service Center, Region 13 in Austin, TX and is on the Texas Statewide Leadership for Autism Training (TSLAT) team. She develops and provides training and technical assistance to educators and families across Texas who are impacted by autism, other developmental disabilities, and those who have experienced trauma. She has over 20 years of experience in the fields of special education and psychology.