The ABA Umbrella: Different Types of Behavior Therapy Treatment

In the “What is ABA Anyway?” post, I mentioned that ABA is a broad term…an umbrella, if you will. ABA is comprised of many different treatments, and I would like to introduce you to three that are frequently utilized:

Discrete Trial Training (DTT)

DTT is very structured and involves a lot of repetition. It is an intensive 1:1 treatment, typically sitting face-to-face at a table. This is what many people think of when they hear “ABA,” but it’s only one component. In DTT, specific tasks or behaviors are broken down into simple steps, and built up one step at a time.

For example, if your child is learning to identify shapes, her therapist would teach each shape individually. The therapist may begin by teaching your child to identify a circle. The therapist will perform a “trial” by presenting three flashcards and asking your child to point to the circle. The therapist then immediately reinforces the correct response (i.e., “Look at you finding the circle!” or a high-five) or corrects the response. The therapist will then immediately repeat the “trial” multiple times (my generally rule of thumb is 5-10 trials!). This may continue over several sessions until your child can consistently identify the circle. The therapist will then move on to teaching a square by itself and reinforce. As you child’s repertoire of shapes builds, the therapist will incorporate all shapes.

Sometimes it takes a lot of repetition for things to “stick.” DTT can be used to teach a variety of skills, such as, labeling objects, washing hands, eye contact, sorting, etc.

**Check out the video for an example of using DTT to work on identifying colors**


Incidental Teaching (IT)/Natural Environment Training (NET)

IT/NET uses the surroundings of the child and naturally occurring opportunities in order to teach new skills. It’s also a good way to make sure that skills learned in treatment translate—or, generalize—to the natural environment. IT/NET plays into the interests of the child, so typically, this treatment is usually motivating. Before starting IT/NET, a goal should be put into place and the therapist should have an idea of what your child enjoys.

For example, your child is learning to identify shapes and colors, as well as following simple directions. He really enjoys cars. The therapist brings him into the playroom and gives your child a car to play with. While your child is playing, the therapist may say, “What color is the car?” “What shape are the windows?” “Hey, bud, push the car.” The therapist will positively reinforce correct responses. Three skills were practiced using your child’s favorite toy!

Another way IT/NET can be used is to foster communication. Let’s say your child is working on requesting. If your child walks into a playroom and spots a car on the shelf that he really likes, he will have to request it in order to play with it. Sometimes the therapist may have to contrive a situation. For example, she may put your child’s favorite cookie in a see-through baggie, just out of reach so that your child has to ask for it.


Verbal Behavior (VB)

VB is a structured, 1:1 therapy like DTT; however, it is language-based. The child will learn to make the connection between a word and its meaning. One way VB is used is to teach a child how to functionally use their words, by not only learning to label objects, but to also learn what they do. For example, the therapist shows your child a toothbrush. Ideally, this is how we would like the scenario to play out: Therapist: “What is this?” Child: “A toothbrush.” T: “What do you use a toothbrush for?” C: “Brushing teeth.” T: “What do you brush your teeth with?” C: “A toothbrush.”


Hmm… “How can I use these with my child?”

Good question! Incidental Teaching/Natural Environment Training (IT/NET) is the easiest one to use to practice skills because it’s laidback, motivating and is also easy to incorporate into everyday play. Keep an eye out for our next post which will give you some tips on how to use IT/NET at home!

Melissa Laco, BCBA, COBA