A comparative study of fluency training and discrete trial training on the acquisition, stimulus generalization, and retention of noun labels in children with autism

Date of Completion

January 2008


Education, Educational Psychology|Education, Special|Psychology, Clinical|Psychology, Cognitive




Children with autism have unique characteristics that make it difficult for them to achieve important learning outcomes such as the application and retention of skills. Discrete trial instruction is the common method of choice for teaching children with autism new skills, but discrete trial instruction has often been criticized for its limited application and retention results. Fluency Training specifically targets skill application and skill retention and may help students with autism achieve these important learning outcomes. This investigation employed a standard alternating-treatment design to compare the treatment effects of discrete trial training versus fluency training for the acquisition, stimulus generalization, and retention of noun labels in children with autism. Four elementary aged students, previously diagnosed with autism, were taught to expressively label nouns using a discrete trial training format and a fluency training format. A comparison per treatment of the total number of nouns learned (acquisition) and generalized to untrained stimuli (application) were contrasted between discrete trial training and fluency training. A between-treatments comparison of the total number of nouns retained at 6 weeks post intervention was also conducted to compare retention. The results from this study showed that fluency training was superior to discrete trial training in all of these areas. These results have implications for teaching language and other skills to children with autism, potentially resulting in reduced costs to society, fewer burdens on families, and better quality of life outcomes. ^