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Autism Skill Assessments

Written by Anu

Autism Skill assessments are the tools used to evaluate the skill repertoire of children with autism. It is the first step towards developing a program that addresses specific needs of the children. It helps parents and professionals assess the current skill levels and abilities of children. The assessment results are used to create an individual comprehensive plan for the learner. The assessments are done periodically to check the efficacy of the program.

Why Use Assessment?

Assessments are used to determine skill deficits and strengths which help to create a tailored behaviour change plan for an individual with autism. There are several assessments available in the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and the professionals use a combination of assessments to assess a learner’s strengths and needs.

Common ABA assessments

  • Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills- revised (ABLLS-R)

  • Verbal Behaviour- Milestone Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP)

  • Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)

  • Promoting Emergence of Advanced Knowledge (PEAK)

Assessment of Basic language and learning skills-Revised (ABLLS-R)

The ABLLS-R is a comprehensive assessment tool developed and revised by Dr. James Partington. It is a guide to curriculum ideas and a commonly used assessment which targets the skills that most typically developing children acquire prior to entering Kindergarten. ABLLS-R comprises 544 skills from 25 skill sets divided into four skill assessment areas: basic learner skills, self-help skills, academic skills, and motor skills. It assesses skills needed by a child with a strong emphasis on communication and learning from a child’s everyday experience. The assessment results are used to identify and remove the complications in learning new skills. ABLLS-R is broken down into two documents: The ABLLS-R Protocol and ABLLS-R Guide. The ABLLS-R protocol is used to assess a child’s performance on the task items and the ABLLS-R Guide provides instruction for scoring and strategies for developing appropriate goals.

Verbal Behaviour- Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP)

VB-MAPP is a criterion-referenced assessment tool, curriculum guide and skill tracking system, developed by Mark L. Sundberg. It is based on Dr. B. F. skinner’s functional analysis of language/ verbal behaviour. It is one of the most comprehensive skill assessment tools for children between the age of 2 to 48 months which helps in developing an appropriate curriculum tailored to the specific needs of a child. There are five components of VB-MAPP –

  • The milestone assessment- Contains 170 measurable developmental milestones

  • The barrier assessment- Analyzes 24 common learning and language acquisition barriers.

  • The transition assessment- Contains 18 assessment areas to check if a child is making meaningful progress.

  • The task analysis and skill tracking- Contains 900 ongoing learning and language skills that support developmental milestones.

  • Placement and IEP goals- provides information necessary for developing IEP goals

Promoting Emergence of Advanced Knowledge (PEAK)

PEAK is an evidence-based assessment and corresponding curriculum. It combines the traditional ABA verbal behaviour approach with the science of Derived Rational Theory which teaches a child to make relations between the concepts. The planned PEAK curriculum helps with teaching advanced language skills, problem solving skills and social skills. The curriculum is divided into four modules which are:

  • Direct training- Covers many of the same ares as VB-MAPP and ABLLS-R I.e., request, label, and imitation etc.

  • Generalization module – Focuses on taking basic concepts across contexts, people, and stimuli.

  • Equivalence Module – Drives skills from previously taught skills

  • Transformation Skills – Measures a child’s ability to make associations between the similarities and differences of the objects.

Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)

ESDM is an evidence-based assessment and curriculum developed by Sally J. Rogers and Geraldine Dawson. ESDM is a comprehensive developmental behavioural intervention drawn from naturalistic strategies of ABA. It is a play-based early intervention program for young children with autism between 12-48 months of age. This intervention focuses on increasing functioning across developmental domains like expressive and receptive communication, social skills, imitation, cognitive, fine, and gross motor skills, and personal independence skills. It also aims to reduce the core symptoms of autism in children. The ESDM starts with the assessment using The Early Start Denver Model Curriculum Checklist. The baseline assessment is done by observing a child and by obtaining parents input about the child’s skills and abilities. Based on the assessment results, an individualized program with specific goals is created for the child. Then the child’s progress is checked using the Curriculum checklist.


VB- MAPP, ABLLS, PEAK and ESDM can be used as an assessment, curricula as well as skill tracking guides. All these assessments provide a guide for developing skills from simple to complex and a scoring grid to allow for evaluation of skill progression. The professionals use a combination of assessments to create a curriculum that addresses all needs of a child. These are definitely great tools for trained professionals, but it can be very overwhelming for parents without any background in ABA.





Criterion- referenced assessment

Criterion- referenced assessment

Norm referenced assessment

Norm referenced assessment

Based on Skinner’s verbal behaviour.

Dr. James Partington created the ABLLS-R

Based on Skinner’s verbal behaviour

Combines verbal behaviour approach with Relational Frame theory

Based on naturalistic procedure of ABA

Used for children between the ages 2 to 8

Appropriate for young children ages 2 to 6

Used for children (birth to 16 years) as well as adults

Used for very young children 12- 60 months




How Do I Choose an ABA Assessment? Attentive Behavior Care. (n.d.).

Overview of ABLLS-R - Special Learning Article. Special Learning Inc. (n.d.).

The VB-MAPP: An Overview. Positive Behavioral Connections. (2014, November 19)

Turner, A. (2020, August 5). Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). 1to1 Therapy Services.

What is PEAK and why is BCOTB using it? Behavior Analysts Tampa: ABA Therapy, Autism, Behavior Problems. (2018, October 3).


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