Friday, January 1, 2010

ABLLS vs VB MAPP: What is the difference?

In the last week, we have added three new clients to our practice, and we vb mapp pichave begun the task of starting our assessments with them. Whenever I start out new clients in our practice, I always describe the assessments we will use to get a “picture” of where the learner is, if he is a beginner, intermediate, or advanced learner. Our baseline is our starting point, and gives us our “map” of where we are going with our treatment program. It is always a given that many parents ask what the difference is between the two assessments that we use. Many times, this is the first time that either the ABLLS or VB MAPP has ever been conducted on these learners!

The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS) was written by Dr. James Partington and Dr. Mark Sundberg in 1998. The ABLLS is a criterion referenced tool with 25 reperoire areas. The way I think of criterion referenced is that it is task analyzed according to repertoire area, and the child “competes” against himself to master out the objectives in each repertoire area, and “close the gap” between typical language development and his own. We have been using the ABLLS here since about 2002, using it as our primary assessment tool, and curriculum that links directly to the assessment itself. What I mean by this, is that given the results of the baseline assessment, we take objectives that the child does not have in his repertoire, and introduce them within the program binder. The bonus is that at the end of the quarter or after about 6 months, we know which objectives have been mastered out, so it makes re-assessment easy! One downfall is that the ABLLS is not developmentally sequenced, and many times, I have had to look up the age levels at which typically developing children acquire certain behaviors to make sure I should even be teaching it!
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. For me, the VB MAPP makes more sense. It has many advantages that outweigh using the ABLLS. See It is a developmentally based criterion referenced assessment tool, that was field tested with typically developing children and children with ASD. I have had the honor of being able to participate in the field testing of it, utilizing my typically developing daughter’s profile to help Dr. Sundberg. This was great practice for me, in starting this assessment with my daughter when she was not yet 1 year old, and updating it every 3-4 months! She will have a nice record of her language development when she grows up!

The VB MAPP assesses individual skills within each repertoire area, such as the echoic, mand, tact, intraverbal, etc. It also assesses the child’s barriers to learning, and has a nice echoic assessment written by Barbara Esch, PhD., an SLP and BCBA. The MAPP also contains a transition assessment which is to aide teachers and providers in making placement decisions about the level of inclusion or group instruction that may be appropriate for that learner. These added features really make the VB MAPP the paramount tool! The VB MAPP has three specific developmental levels (0-18mo, 18-30mo, 30-48mo) so you can compare the skills of a child with autism with skillset of typically developing children in each range. Once the VB-MAPP is completed, the totals within each level can be added up to obtain a fraction or score which can be valuable when comparing scores over time. This is what I like! The graphs act as reinforcement for us practitioners, and parents, and reinforces our good teaching behavior!

Overall, I feel that the VB MAPP is more comprehensive and easier to administer tool! It is just a much needed improvement on the technology. It was difficult for us as a group to switch over entirely from the ABLLS to the VB MAPP in aligning it to our curriculum, but that has been getting easier over time, and soon I think we will be able to say that we are solely using the VB MAPP. Both the VB-MAPP and ABLLS can be used as assessments, curriculum, as well as skills tracking guides. They both also provide a nice visual display of the data in color.

The ABLLS, ABLLS-R (A revised ABLLS published by Dr. Partington in 2006) and the VB MAPP assessment tools are all available at and information regarding BCBA’s can be found at


After you complete your baseline assessments of either the VB MAPP or ABLLS, some wonderful programming advice can be found in Mary Barbera’s book: The Verbal Behavior Approach: How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disorders ( (Thanks Mary! – We use your book to give out to all of the parents of our clients, as well as to all of our employees!!~ We love that it is easy to read, and not overwhelming to parents or providers new to the vocabulary and acronyms!!). Mary also posts a blog with great information related to verbal behavior on her website above. Also, Mark Sundberg has some wonderful information including downloads, on his site There is also a link to the AVB press site where you can purchase this valuable tool.

When I first bought the ABLLS, I think it sat with dust on it for several months, until I began to try to get through it with 1 client. I recall how overwhelming it was to think that I had to assess all 25 repertoire areas, and really had no one to hold my hand in doing so. Autism Training Solutions (ATS) training videos on the VB MAPP and ABLLS will be released soon to give some more specific guidance to those who would like a more step by step approach in utilizing these assessment tools. We hope to give you a hand to hold when learning to implement these valuable tools. When making the decision which tool to use for your child , it is recommended that you consult with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who is familiar with using Skinner’s Analysis of Verbal Behavior in language programming.

Best of luck! Just remember that learning to adminster these assessments, and linking up a curriculum based on your assessments doesn’t happen overnight! It takes many years of trial and error in programming to make it the most efficient it can be! Don’t be afraid to ask for support! Stay tuned for ATS training videos on the VB MAPP and ABLLS, and also handouts and tracking sheets to make your journey into these assessments more errorless!

For more information on the ABLLS see:

For more information on the VB MAPP see:

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