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    ABLLS Vs. VB-MAPP Assessments: What’s the Difference?

    Topics: About Autism, Autism Treatment Options, Infant/Toddler (0-3), Elementary (4-12), Teen (13-17)

    ABLLS Vs. VB-MAPP Assessments: What’s the Difference?


    Two of the most common assessments used to evaluate autistic children are the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS) and the Verbal Behavior - Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP). These assessments are very similar, but some differences may make one test more suitable than the other for your child or student.

    Assessments are the basis for creating successful treatment plans for children on the autism spectrum. Whenever an autistic child or student starts a new program, the assessments will give parents, teachers, and therapists a picture of where the child is at, and provide a starting point and plan for what the student needs and will be learning. 


    What Is the ABLLS/ABLLS-R?

    The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS) was written by Dr. James Partington and Dr. Mark Sundberg in 1998. Much of the assessment is designed around the behavioral science work of Dr. B.F. Skinner in the 1950s. It is a criterion-referenced tool with 25 repertoire areas. It finds the skills a child needs to successfully communicate and learn and identifies the hurdles to attaining these skills. 

    While commonly referred to as ABLLS, it is often also labeled as ABLLS-R, because most ABLLS testing today uses the revised version and method which was produced in 2006. While the number of repertoire areas didn’t change, this version uses an updated battery of segments. It also specifies a specific sequence to the sections as opposed to a random order the evaluator may have chosen previously. The revision also includes elements linked to social interaction skills and motor imitation.


    The ABLLS-R is used to measure the following:

    • motor skills
    • self-help skills
    • academic levels
    • social interaction
    • language and communication skills


    The ABLLS-R is designed primarily to assess skills that typically develop in young children between ages two and six years old but could be used with children up to age 12. It is a great assessment tool to help develop Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals or treatment plans for use in a school setting to help children gain communication skills. 

    There are many benefits to using the ABLLS assessment. It is user-friendly and can be administered by anyone with a basic understanding of applied behavior analysis (ABA). It also makes it easy for parents and teachers to communicate about education and language developmental issues. 

    While it is a comprehensive program where language is concerned, it, unfortunately, does not focus on behavioral issues, such as repetitive behaviors or sensory issues, that affect many autistic children. Another drawback of the ABLLS-R is that it is not developmentally sequenced.

    boy with autism taking language assessment


    What Is the VB-MAPP?

    The Verbal Behavior-Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) was more recently written by Dr. Mark Sundberg and published by AVB Press in 2008. This assessment is developmentally based and field-tested with typically developing children and children with autism. Like ABLLS it also follows concepts from Dr. B.F. Skinner’s behavior analysis research. 

    The main objective of the VB-MAPP is to provide children with a way to learn and progress by identifying language acquisition, the learning barriers that hold them back, and the methods and strategies that may work best for each child individually. 

    Once completed, the information gathered can be used to make changes to the way a child learns and grows. This can help lessen the number of negative behaviors a child has over time and provide teachers and therapists with the resources they need to eliminate the obstacles that prevent the child from learning.  

    The VB MAPP covers three specific developmental levels (0-18 months, 18-30 months, and 30-48 months). This makes it possible to compare the skills of a child with autism to the skillset of typically developing children in each age range. The evaluation also includes a transition assessment to help providers make placement decisions about what level of inclusion or group instruction may be suitable for that student. 



    The VB-MAPP has five elements:


    Milestones Assessment

    The Milestones Assessment focuses primarily on language and social skills but also includes some academic skills. It covers 170 learning and language milestones that are sequenced across 3 developmental levels (0-18 months, 18-30 months, and 30-48 months). The skills assessed include mand, tact, echoic, intraverbal, listener, motor imitation, independent play, social and social play, visual perceptual and matching-to-sample, linguistic structure, group and classroom skills, and early academics.


    Barriers Assessment

    The Barriers Assessment covers 24 common barriers to learning that children with autism or other developmental disabilities may face, including behavior problems, prompt dependence, weak social skills, and failure to generalize. 


    Transition Assessment

    The Transition Assessment assesses 18 areas that can help to identify whether a child is making progress and if they have gained the skills necessary for learning in a less restrictive educational environment. It includes areas such as the rate at which the child learns new skills, their adaptability to change, and their ability to learn from the natural environment.


    Task Analysis and Supporting Skills

    The Task Analysis and Supporting Skills part of the assessment corresponds to the Milestones Assessment. It includes hundreds of skills that are often directly related to the milestones and which skills should be taught before each milestone and can provide insight into the child’s present skill level.


    VB-MAPP Placement and IEP Goals

    The VB-MAPP Placement and IEP Goals section corresponds to the previous four assessments and is an in-depth guide for developing IEP goals and identifying interventions based on the results of the other parts of the assessment.  The placement recommendations can help an educator, school district, or clinician develop an intervention program, and ensure that all the relevant parts of the necessary intervention are included.

    boy taking language diagnostic test


    What Is the Difference Between ABLLS-R and VB-MAPP?

    Both the ABLLS-R and VB-MAPP are important tools for assessment when working with young children on the autism spectrum. They are both curriculum skills assessments that look to determine specific language and learning skills a child needs to develop, help to identify deficiencies in language, academic, self-help, and motor skills, and then implement and evaluate the intervention. The ABLLS-R and VB-MAPP can both be used as assessments, curricula, and skills-tracking guides. 

    While the ABLLS-R is user-friendly and a comprehensive program where language is concerned, it is not developmentally sequenced and does not account for behavioral and sensory issues. VB MAPP on the other hand is developmentally based and also includes a transition assessment, which can help with the placement of autistic children in the least restrictive environment (LRE). 

    When deciding on which tool to use for your child or student, it is important to consider the individual being tested and to remember that learning to administer the ABLLS-R or VB-MAPP and linking up a curriculum based on these assessments — such as the ARIS® Academic Readiness Intervention System — is a process. It may be helpful to consult with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who is familiar with using Skinner’s Analysis of Verbal Behavior in language programming before choosing an assessment. 


    What are your experiences with the ABLLS-R and VB-MAPP assessments, and which do you prefer? Please let us know in the comments section below.

    We hope you enjoyed the information in this article. STAGES® Learning also offers free downloadable resources to support teaching and learning with individuals with autism. Start with our free Picture Noun Cards and see our collection of other downloadable resources here!









    Ymkje Wideman-van der Laan

    Written by Ymkje Wideman-van der Laan

    Ymkje Wideman-van der Laan is an author, public speaker, and Certified Autism Resource Specialist from the Netherlands. After working abroad as a teacher and humanitarian for 25 years, she moved to the US in 2006 and assumed the care of her then 6-month-old grandson, Logan. There were signs of autism at an early age, and the diagnosis became official in 2009. She has been his advocate and passionate about promoting autism awareness and acceptance ever since. Logan is the inspiration behind the Autism Is...? (tinyurl.com/5aj73ydd) series of children’s books she initially wrote for him and later published. Ymkje currently lives in California with her now 15-year-old grandson, and besides writing, presents autism training workshops for early childhood educators, parents, and caregivers. You can read more about her story in her newly released book, Autism on a Shoestring Budget, [Early] Intervention Made Easier (https://tinyurl.com/ysxhxbmf). For more information, you can visit www.autism-is.com, www.facebook.com/AutismIs, and/or contact her at autismisbooks@gmail.com.


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