Children and adults suffering from autism need a lot of help in order to learn. I don't mean helping them to do things or get around. I mean they need us to define the behavior to be learned clearly and analyze the learning situation carefully for them, and present it in a systematic fashion to them. Systematic means consistent, repetitive, and criterion-based.

A discrete-trial training format is an essential ingredient in helping autistic people learn. I came to this realization while developing the first autistic program for the Metro Toronto School Board in 1971, 34 years ago. The basic premises is like this: training is always expressed in terms of numbers of trials. A trial is prefaced by a clear definition of the stimulus condition, which may involve the therapist's instruction, the materials presented and the training setting, and by a clear definition of the mastery skill which may be a verbal answer or a physical behavior to be emitted by the patient. The amount of training is measured by the number of trials over a specific time (the session time), and learning is defined by number of correct (acceptable) trials over total trials.

Without the discrete trials, learning is often hit-and-miss and reduced to a general gussing game or subject to wishful-thinking. And more importantly, treatment effectiveness cannot be ascertained.

I have always maintained that whereas many regular children require only coaching or even merely observation to learn new things, making autistic children learn represents a test of the therapist/trainer's analytical skills and thus true teaching.

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