Verbal Behavior Approach: How to Teach Children with Autism and       Related Disorders [Mary Lynch Barbera]

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What are the Differences Between the ABLLS and the VB-MAPP?

I received a question on my blog two weeks ago asking about the differences between the ABLLS and the VB-MAPP. This week I’ll address this question.

The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills, otherwise known as the ABLLS, was written by Dr. James Partington and Dr. Mark Sundberg in 1998. The ABLLS was not written as a “stand alone” book. Instead, it is one of three books that were written to go together. Many people (including me) credit the publication of Drs. Sundberg and Partington’s three-book collection (including the ABLLS) with the creation of the Verbal Behavior Approach.   Without the ABLLS, my son with autism who is 13 years old would not have progressed to the point he is now and I most likely would not have become a BCBA or written my book. I am therefore eternally grateful to Drs. Sundberg and Partington for publishing the ABLLS.

The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) was written by Dr. Mark Sundberg and published by AVB Press ( in 2008. This newer assessment tool has many advantages over the ABLLS.

Some of the things that I like better about the VB-MAPP include: 1) Skills as well as barriers are assessed; 2) The tool was field tested with over 150 typical children and dozens of children with autism; 3) There are three clear levels in the MAPP so you can gauge the skills of a child with autism with age ranges of typically developing children; 4) Once the VB-MAPP is completed, the boxes can be added up to obtain a score (making progress more objective and the tool more appealing to researchers); 5) Practitioners who use the VB-MAPP are more likely to develop a balanced program with emphasis on improving the child’s deficits without further splintering skills; 6) The MAPP contains a transition assessment which is helpful in making decisions about the level of inclusion or group instruction that may be appropriate; and 7) I find the VB- MAPP to be easier to administer.

Both the VB-MAPP and ABLLS can be used as assessments, curricula, as well as skills tracking guides. Both tools consist of a series of boxes (although the MAPP has far fewer boxes) requiring completion by an adult who is familiar with the child and, more importantly, knows how to assess skills accurately. The initial assessment using the VB-MAPP or ABLLS can take hours to complete, especially if the learner has more advanced skills.

They are both great tools for a consultant trained in the Verbal Behavior Approach, but for a parent without any background in ABA, the VB-MAPP and the ABLLS can be very overwhelming. In order to assess accurately using one of these tools and program most effectively for your child, consultation with a BCBA familiar with Skinner’s Analysis of Verbal Behavior is strongly advised.

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 completion of a thorough ABA/VB assessment, lots of programming advice can be found in my book: The Verbal Behavior Approach: How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disorders (

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mary,

    Your book doesn't include the ABLLS (R) or VB MAPP but you still call it the Verbal Behavior Approach? I was thinking your book articulated the "essence" (platform?) of the VB Approach, where Partington and Sundberg provided (also provided) a measuring criteria for it, for standardization purposes, as with a language, thereof? Are you saying that such standardized criteria is an essential component of the VB approach, as far as you're concerned, and that you probably can't do ABA/VB without it? (so much without it?) Would that be with respect to teaching "communication," for what it gets and gives of the function of communication? (Where I'm thinking understanding is the primary function of Communication.

    I'm not aware that ABA itself has such standardized criteria (curriculum, milestones of development, or "scales?") as the basis for its platform, (of a curriculum, thereof?) if you'd care to correct me in that respect, or not. Perhaps you are "proposing" as much for ABA itself, or some aspects of it, perhaps, (as with language/a language, development?) towards the optimization of results, of the better way or better curriculum, (for understanding more? Thereof?) perhaps?

    I'm not sure that would be for language or communication or both or how you would differentiate the two, between biological life (standardizeable functions?) and/or understanding more as of and for the individual, of where concepts understood (if not also communicable?) take us in that respect? (of the individual's understanding and agreement/support? of Communication itself? of all the little steps s/he can grasp along the way of it not being so much an all-or-nothing thing?) Perhaps I should be asking what is your measure of accomplishment in that respect, as nebulous as communication for understanding more can be?

    On teaching a language, well, I suppose that would be another thing, and much easier to scale, (and prove, thereof, true to possibilities, if nothing else") of it being standardized and why the ABBLS (R) and the VB-MAPP would be more logical relative to that, of a "language" (of putting symbols to concepts if not standardizing the thing?) course? how successful that ultimately is to what we are striving to achieve

    Perhaps I'm wondering how you measure understanding and a greater understanding (of everything more meaningful?) in that respect (if not in reference to the student, even, perhaps? That'd be getting "out" there? of not being so much for an all-or-nothing thing where the communication of the student is as much the criteria of success as anything else? .. .

    I suppose I'm looking for simpler steps I can take of communication and what communication provides, (Thereof?) where if I can ask the questions I can get the answer(s), for as much.. .

    I was hoping to get it "here," the answer I was looking for for what I have offered, Thereof!

    Sorry for so many questions in questions where that might seem to be the case and a problem, where I also find value in asking as much, I Feel as understand, of Communication!

    I'm always looking for a "scale" that can add to that, and if you recommend the VB MAPP and/or ABBLS for as much, so be it?!.

    Here's more than hoping so, where the "scales" (external scales?) are not so much the "platform," I'm thinking, as Feeling, (understanding, somewhat?!.) somewhat otherwise, as more for "my interests," of Communication, of Understanding More, Thereof! Where what you are offering is really about helping in that respect, depends on what you more directly communicate for It, of this, (of those facts?) Thereof (as much as I like and respect and can afford what you offer, Thereof?!.

    It was nice talking to you?!.

    I'm still getting my best value from you, of Communication, Thereof? of what we can do for each other, Thereof, is my sense of It.

    Mike Glavic

    On Communication

    On helping where I can of our helping each other, Thereof