For parents and other caregivers, the assessment process is often your first step into the world of Applied Behavior Analysis. Your ABA professional will use a variety of assessments, both formal and informal, to help design the program that will be the most successful for your child. One of the formal assessments frequently used is the VB-MAPP ©, or the Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (Learn more about the creators of the VB-MAPP on their website)
The VB-MAPP was designed as a behavioral approach to assessing language skills based on B.F. Skinner’s analysis of language, or Verbal Behavior. In his book Verbal Behavior (published in 1957) Skinner proposed that language is a learned behavior. The VB-MAPP is a criterion-referenced assessment based on typical language development. It is utilized with learners that present with developmental disabilities that are not acquiring language typically in their natural environment. The VB-MAPP systematically tests for the presence of the elementary verbal operants uncovered by Skinner (labeling, asking for items, repeating, imitating, and answering questions) in his or her verbal repertoire.
The VB-MAPP is an exhaustive tool that measures strengths and weaknesses in a variety of developmental milestones, particularly in language and barriers to skill acquisition. Additionally, it provides an extensive checklist for tracking progress over time. Each part of the VB-MAPP gives the ABA team important information that will be used in the development of your child’s treatment program. The VB-MAPP is easily organized by three sections that are all used in unison to assess and track a learner’s progress overtime. Learners’ skills are routinely reassessed across basic language and learning domains (listed below) at regular intervals to ensure that the program is effective.
The first section of the VB-MAPP is Milestones Assessment. It measures for sixteen domains in three levels:
- Mand (the speaker asks for what he wants). Child says “cookie” when she wants a cookie.
- Tact (the speaker names something). Child points to a car and says “car”.
- Listener responding (the listener reacts to a request from the speaker). Child hears “Clap your hands” and then claps his hands.
- Visual perceptual skills and matching-to-sample, or VP-MTS (matching visual stimuli). Child is given a picture and asked to find its match.
- Independent play (playing by herself). Child is given opportunity to play independent of others.
- Social behavior and social play (playing or interacting with others). Child is given the opportunity for interactions with others.
- Motor imitation (similar to echoic, how the speaker learns sign language). Child hears “touch your nose” and then touches his nose.
- Echoic (the speaker repeats what he has heard). Child hears “mama” and repeats “mama”.
- Spontaneous vocal behavior (babbling). Child makes vocal noises without any prompting.
- Listener responding by function, feature, and class, or LRFFC (listener fills in the blank based on what the item does or looks like). Child hears “ you eat…” and while looking at a group of pictures, selects the food item. LEVEL 2
- Intraverbal (the speaker responds to the words of someone else). When hearing “How old are you?” the child answers “5”. LEVEL 2
- Classroom routine and group skills (imitating peers and following group instructions). Child lines up with peers after hearing “everyone line up”. LEVEL 2
- Linguistic structure (words, phrases and sentence structure). LEVEL 2
- Textual (speaker identifies a written word). Child says “book” when she sees the word “book”. LEVEL 3
- Transcription and copying-a-text (the speaker writes, types, or finger-spells his response to verbal input). Child hears “spell cat”, writes the letters c-a-t. LEVEL 3
- Math (starting at level three, comparing child’s skills to typically developing three- to four-year olds. LEVEL 3
The second section is the Barriers Assessment, which identifies any areas that might cause your child to be unsuccessful in developing their verbal repertoire. The therapist will score your child from a 0 (no issues) to a 4 (significant barrier). By recognizing your child’s barriers, the ABA team will be able to design the program to counteract any problem behaviors. Twenty-four barriers to skill acquisition are identified:
- Negative behaviors (whining, crying, aggression)
- Poor instructional control (escaping or avoiding demands)
- Absent, weak, or impaired mand repertoire (cannot tell what he wants)
- Absent, weak, or impaired tact repertoire (leads to syntax errors)
- Absent, weak, or impaired motor imitation (imitation only after prompting, or imitating inappropriate behaviors)
- Absent, weak, or impaired echoic repertoire (cannot repeat, excessively repeats, scripting)
- Absent, weak, or impaired visual perceptual skills and matching-to-sample (cannot visually differentiate items)
- Absent, weak, or impaired listener repertoire (paying attention to the speaker, reinforcing the speaker, or showing that she understands the speaker)
- Absent, weak, or impaired intraverbal repertoire (not answering questions or answering them incorrectly)
- Absent, weak, or impaired social skills (behaving in a non-age appropriate manner)
- Prompt dependent (will only produce behavior with exact prompt)
- Scrolling responses (listing known responses until she gets the correct answer)
- Impaired scanning skills (making choices without fully scanning the choices)
- Failure to make conditional discriminations (cannot discriminate when given multiple stimulus for an item, i.e., shown pictures of different sizes and colors of balls, and asked to find the red ball)
- Failure to generalize (cannot demonstrate skills in other places or with other people)
- Weak or Atypical motivating operations (not recognizing hunger or self-stimming)
- Response requirement weakens the motivating operations (reward is not worth the effort)
- Reinforcement dependent (only responding for reward)
- Self-stimulation (flapping, rocking)
- Articulation problems (cannot be understood when speaking)
- Obsessive-compulsive behavior (child has to wear certain clothing, or drive a certain route to school)
- Hyperactivity (child is always moving, has difficulty finishing tasks)
- Failure to make eye contact or attend to people (lack of eye contact can hinder early communication)
- Sensory defensiveness (child maybe be sensitive to sounds, textures)
The Transition Assessment evaluates your child’s overall skills and existing learning capabilities and determines the best learning environment for them. In looking at the results from the Transition Assessment, Category 1 is the most crucial to determining if your child can succeed in a group-learning environment. The Transition Assessment focuses on three categories:
- Transition Category 1: VB-MAPP scores and academic independence. Scores are converted to a 1-5 scale (1 being low, 5 being high)
- Overall Milestones score
- Overall Barriers score
- Barriers score on negative behaviors and instructional control
- Milestones score on classroom routines and group skills
- Milestones score on social behavior and social play
- Independent work on academic tasks
- Transition Category 2: Learning patterns. Scores are on a 1-5 scale.
- Variation of reinforcers
- Rate of skill acquisition
- Retention of new skills
- Natural environment learning
- Transfer to new verbal operants
- Transition Category 3: Self-help, spontaneity, and self-direction. Scores are on a 1-5 scale
- Adaptability to change
- Spontaneous behaviors
- Independent play skills
- General self-help skills
- Toileting skills
- Eating skills
With all of this information, the ABA team can design a program that best suits your child and their needs. The assessment is administered in a fun, energetic and age-appropriate way for your child. The results will be shared with you and any questions will be answered. The assessment will be re-administered regularly to track your child’s progress and to update programming as needed.
By Michelle Hausman, RBT