The success of a discrete trial training (DTT) program depends on accurate data collection. Clinicians use data to track progress and provide the best care. Learn about DTT data best practices and check out expert tips in this comprehensive guide.
Clinicians use a DTT data sheet to record what happens during a discrete trial training session. The data sheets include the patient response, prompt type, and summary data. Clinicians use DTT data sheets to track a patient’s progress and support decision-making.
“Discrete trial training (DTT) is a foundational intervention for ABA,” says Katherine Jester, MS, BCBA, LBA. “It is one of the major types of treatment that has been shown to create lasting behavior change for individuals with autism.”
Data sheets break down an applied behavioral analysis (ABA) session into variables that the board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) or technician will track. DTT lends itself well to data collection because the treatment is systematic, repeated, and well-defined. In each trial, a clinician helps a patient with autism practice a skill, like identifying a color or pronouncing a word. Then, the clinician uses the data sheet to track progress over time and determine whether the patient can move on to the next target behavior. Over the long term, BCBAs can use data collection to glean generalizable information about a particular learned skill or behavior.
Discrete trial training data sheets represent a critical part of any DTT strategy. Clinicians analyze the data to monitor progress and inform future targets. ABA clinic owners can use the data to validate claims and train new employees.
“DTT data collection is important for clinical quality assurance and treatment fidelity, payor documentation, training purposes, and tracking client progress,” Jester notes. “Without good data on the interventions you’re performing, you can’t prove to any stakeholder that the services are worthwhile.”
A DTT data collection sheet should include general information about the patient and therapist. Each sheet will have a section to record a patient’s response, prompts, and reinforcers. Also, include a section to record session summary data or notes.
Clinicians take different approaches to structuring and filling out DTT data collection sheets. Some use electronic sheets, while others record manually. Some record more data, while others prefer to minimize any disruption from notetaking. Most calculate the patient’s percentage of correct responses in a “percent of opportunities” system.
All DTT data collection sheets include sections where clinicians record a patient’s responses. Most summarize those responses with the percentage method. For example, if a child answered correctly five out of ten times, that’s 50% of the opportunities.
However, the specific structure of a data sheet can vary based on the clinician’s preferences, which data they find most important, and whether they’re recording data manually or with an electronic system. For example, some clinicians prefer taking data as often as possible to yield accurate results. Others prioritize efficient sessions and don’t record the response after every trial to minimize interruptions to the session.
Researchers address DTT data collection approaches in a 2011 paper titled “A Comparison of Methods for Collecting Data on Performance During Discrete Trial Training” in the journal Behavior Analysis in Practice. They write: “Methods that provide greater prevision (e.g., recording the prompt level needed one each instructional trial) are less practical than methods with less precision (e.g., recording the presence or absence of a correct response on the first trial only.)”
Your data collection system should be designed to help you offer your clients the best level of care. No single data system will work for every clinician. Explore our free, printable data collection templates to find your preferred method.
Follow data collection best practices to ensure high-quality data. For example, technicians should define their trial success and failure criteria before recording data. Also, create a set of data collection guidelines to ensure all technicians collect data the same way.
First, you should follow best practices for data collection in general. These practices include defining variables and abbreviations, preparing material beforehand, and establishing a system for correcting errors.
Along with these tips, consider collecting data digitally with robust practice management software.
Data collection software speeds up data collection, can reduce human error, and quickly graphs your data. However, some clinicians manually collect data so they can customize their sheets. Also, electronic data can be lost if a server malfunctions and it’s not backed up, although that’s less common these days.
A growing number of ABA clinics have adopted practice management software that digitizes large parts of a practice, including data collection. This trend remains strong for a good reason: Digital systems can automate tedious tasks to save you time and money that you can reallocate toward patient care or clinic growth.
Both paper-and-pencil and electronic data collection produce high levels of accuracy, according to a 2022 paper, “Accuracy of paper-and-pencil systematic observations versus computer-aided systems,” published in Behavior Research Methods.
One person who welcomes the transition to electronic transition is Penelope Johnson, Ed.D, BCBA. She holds a doctorate in neuroeducation from Johns Hopkins University with over 15 years of clinical experience working with children and adolescents on the autism spectrum.
“Technology is embedded in our daily lives,” says Johnson. “It is only natural for the field to turn to electronic data collection. Everyone has a phone or iPad and can easily input qualitative or quantitative information. Many of the data points we collect are based on observation, which can be difficult to record accurately. Also, different providers working with the client may use different methods of recording. An electronic collection system provides a standard, established means to document data. Electronic collection also helps organize, graph and analyze data so that the provider can make treatment decisions informed by the data leading to improved outcomes.”
Although most BCBAs today swear by electronic data collection, some continue to collect data manually. Jester uses practice management software to collect data electronically. But Jester also has first-hand experience with manual data collection.
Artemis ABA practice management software adapts your practice to a digital space. Secure data collection systems integrate seamlessly into the software. The intuitive system offers many customizations and clear data inputs for DTT and other interventions.
The Artemis practice management software can play a vital role in both patient progress and clinic growth. With this integrated data collection system, you won’t need to worry about spanning your practice across multiple software systems.
For example, Penelope Johnson previously used practice management software and a separate electronic data collection system.
“It was time-consuming to cross-check and ensure we had documentation supporting each appointment before the claim was submitted,” Johnson says. “Combining practice management with electronic data is a huge time-saver.”
Katherine Jester is another Artemis fan. She praises the Artemis ABA data collection platform
“Artemis has visual reminders for minimum and maximum trials per target, it has clear and intuitive buttons for inputting data, and it has unlimited, completely customizable prompt types. Technicians can navigate at the domain, skill, or target level and build intervention plans. Finally, Artemis uses the Salesforce cloud, which boasts an impressive 99.9% uptime — you won’t need to worry about losing data or documentation.”
Digitize your practice and gain a 360-degree view of your business with Artemis ABA.
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