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ABLLS vs VB MAPP: What is the difference?

October 11, 2009

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.
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:

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Kevin Dockery permalink
    September 10, 2010 9:40 pm

    My attempt to get information on ABLLS-R and VB-MAPP for my autistic son have led me here. Your website is informative, however I would strongly recommend the removal of the exclamation points. It is very unprofessional and I have a hard time taking the information seriously.

    • September 10, 2010 10:05 pm

      Thanks Kevin for your feedback. I was a little too excited on the day I wrote this I suppose.

      • Ashley permalink
        September 24, 2012 6:04 pm

        I like your excitement, Amy. It comes with the territory, and I get that. 🙂

      • Cheryl permalink
        November 8, 2012 9:12 pm

        Please do not remove the exclamation points! They demonstrate your enthusiasm as a professional. I find that children really enjoy professionals who are not afraid of a few exclamation points!

  2. Erica permalink
    September 30, 2010 4:33 am

    Do you know how often you should update the VB-MAPP, what is considered “Best Practice”? Also, where might I find this information?
    Thanks so much for your help,

    • September 30, 2010 7:43 pm

      Thanks for your question Erika. I looked in the manual and was not able to find any information to refer to regarding the frequency in which to update the MAPP. In my own humble opinion, I would say that it depends on the acquisition rate of the learner, as well as the level of the learner. You should determine whether mastery of the milestones is occurring, and how quickly, and if so, it may warrant an update, as well as updating the IEP or treatment planning goals for that specific learner. For example, if you set targets for a year, and the learner is able to master them within 3 months, then yes, you would want to update the VB MAPP. As a ballpark, we try to update our VB MAPPS at least 2 times per year. We used to try to do this quarterly, but realized that for our needs, it was not necessary. I hope that helps! I will try to get information regarding this from the author, Mark Sundberg, and post it to this reply as well.

  3. February 1, 2011 5:04 pm

    I really enjoy studying on this internet site , it has superb articles .

    • February 4, 2011 8:27 am

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  4. February 2, 2012 12:58 am

    Thank you! Thank you! I have always used the ABLLS but am eager to try the VB MAP, thanks again! 🙂

  5. Vicky permalink
    February 21, 2012 11:46 am

    How long does it take to conduct an assessment with either ABLLS or VB-MAPP? Thanks!!

    • February 22, 2012 3:14 am

      Hi Vicky! It can take up to about 30 hours or so to complete an ABLLS assessment or VB MAPP, by probing all of the skills that are within the child’s abilities, and indicating what score he/she received in relation to the criteria, and collecting the data as to which targets he/she was observed to demonstrate. For example, if you are probing 20 where intraverbals, you would need a list and need to write out his/her responses for each of the 20 intraverbals specifically. Another example would be assessing for his LR abilities, and going through 100 cards, presented in the array that the criteria called for (ie) array of 6-8 etc, and indicating which cards he was able to respond as a listener to. A rule of thumb for language based assessments such as these, would be to allow for more time if the child has more language which would need to be teased through. But for an early learner, one could get through an assessment in 1-2-3 hours depending on the level of the learner. Early learners usually have little to no language, so you would not need to probe through as many levels, or criteria, as you would with a more advanced learner. Hope this is helpful! Amy

      • Vicky permalink
        February 22, 2012 10:20 am

        Very clear and helpful, thanks!!

  6. Laila permalink
    July 11, 2012 3:27 am

    Hi, due to a severe speech delay which caused delays in other areas, my son was diagnosed with autism right before he turned 3 (May 2011) . We didn’t waste time and did our research and enrolled him in ABA that September. The center uses the VB-MAPP system and when they evaluated my son to place him on the milestone he scored at level 2 with 23 skills (Oct. 2011). June 2012 (9 months later), my son turned 4 on June 20, 2012 and he completed level 2 and now scores level 3 with 38 skills acquired. We work very closely with the center and do alot of pre-teaching at home. My son does not have any barriers except that he might at times have ants in his pants but it does not interfere with his learning and we are working with an o/t to remedy this. So we expect him to complete the program in give or take 6 months. With all that I mention above, and given that he will be 4 1/2 by then, what will I need to do/what comes next?

  7. August 29, 2012 9:35 pm

    Gracias for moving me to go do my own my own analysis.
    Yours was way more thought out than mine.

  8. Lori permalink
    October 14, 2012 12:00 pm

    Do you have any suggestions for assessments to use with olderchildren, such as 10 – 14?

    • October 16, 2012 9:03 am

      Hi Lori, the VB MAPP assessment still may tell you alot for a 10-14 year old depending on the level of language and social and play that the child has. In addition, it has a Barriers Assessment, to help determine what some of the barriers to learning are, as well as the Echoic Assessment, to help determine the level of echoic ability.

      The VB MAPP can help determine if there are any gaps to fill in that are under 48 months, such as intraverbals (answering wh questions), manding for information, and some basic academics. We sometimes switch to the ABLLS (old version) after the child has completed the VB MAPP as it helps us determine other skills that may be deficient up to about middle of kindergarten or gr. 1. Making sure the prerequisite language skills have been mastered helps you determine whether to continue down “academic” avenue, and pursue inclusion, or to move towards more functional skills and language, especially if the child is 10-14 and has not mastered the basic language skills. It is important to remember that the VB MAPP is criterion referenced and developmentally sequenced, and the ABLLS is just criterion referenced but NOT developmentally sequenced, so you need to defer to someone with expertise in developmental norms/milestones when using the ABLLS, depending on the level of deficiency.

      What is nice about the VB MAPP, is that it now comes in an app version, from Data Makes a Difference (check the app store for iPad or iPhone) and you can “see” the changes visually over the assessment periods, as the grid begins to fill upwards towards 48 months.
      Hope this helps!
      Amy Wiech, M.Ed., BCBA

    • October 16, 2012 9:06 am

      Hi Lori,
      I forgot about the AFLS, Assessment of Functional Living Skills (Partington). It is basically a list of skills that individuals may need to learn, or that we as teachers may find it important to teach. So as for functional skills, this is a great list of functional skills to assess from and select your teaching targets. It is criterion referenced and not developmentally sequenced.

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