Instructional Design for Autistic Learners: Moving Beyond Discrete Trial Instruction

Trina Spencer



Behavior analysts often rely heavily on discrete trial instruction (DTI) despite its limitations for teaching complex skills. Direct Instruction (DI) is proposed as a more effective method for developing generative skills, emphasizing intentional programming for generativity and efficiency in learning. This presentation from the 2023 Michigan Autism Conference illustrates DI principles with examples from teaching autoclitic frames to autistic learners, showcasing how DI can foster skillful learning in new contexts.

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Behavior analysts have successfully adopted, applied, refined, and transferred the technology of discrete trial instruction (DTI), but for many clinical behavior analysts DTI is the only thing in their instructional toolbox. Despite enormous benefits to learners with limited repertoires and nascent generalization skills, other forms of instruction are better suited for teaching complex generative repertoires. Direct Instruction (DI) is a model for teaching that integrates specialized design principles with effective strategies of instructional delivery. Like DTI, DI is a technology that guides the planning and promotion of small learning increments through carefully defined and prescribed teaching behaviors, however, with DI, generativity is programmed intentionally from the beginning in a sophisticated manner. The result is efficient and skillful learning in novel contexts. In this keynote address, Dr. Spencer presents principles of instructional design based on the DI model and illustrate their application with examples of teaching manipulative autoclitic frames with autistic learners.

About the Speaker

Dr. Spencer is a senior scientist and director of the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at University of Kansas and holds a faculty appointment in the Department of Applied Behavioral Sciences. Drawing from speech-language pathology, applied linguistics, education, and behavior analysis, she concentrates her efforts on the oral academic language that serves as a foundation to the reading and writing of pre-K to 3rd grade students, with and without disabilities. Her interventions and assessment tools are used broadly in the United States, but also internationally. Dr. Spencer values researcher-practitioner partnerships, community engagement, and cross disciplinary collaborations to accomplish high impact and innovative applied research.

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Trina Spencer
Instructional Design for Autistic Learners: Moving Beyond Discrete Trial Instruction
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