Header/Navigation Bar/Social Media Icons

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Alternative Curricula Week 3: The VB-MAPP

Welcome back to week 3 in our series on Alternative Curricula!  This week I will be reviewing the Verbal Behaviour Milestones Assessment and Placement Program, or VB-MAPP for short.

The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) is an assessment, skills-tracking system and curriculum guide to assess the language, learning and social skills of children with autism or other developmental disabilities. A strong focus of the VB-MAPP is language and social interaction, which are the predominant areas of weakness in children with autism.

The VB-MAPP is based on the principles and procedures of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), B.F. Skinner's behavioral analysis of language, verbal behavior and establishment of developmental milestones.  It was developed by Mark Sundberg, Ph.D., BCBA-D and is a continuation of the author's 30+ year research in language assessment and intervention as it applies to individuals with autism. A contributing author to the VB-MAPP is Barbara Esch, Ph.D, CCC-SLP, BCBA-D, a speech and language pathologist who includes an assessment of speech sounds with a guide for developmental progression called the Early Echoic Skills Assessment (EESA.)

The VB-MAPP is most commonly used to assess individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities, but can also be used for children who demonstrate delays in language development. It is intended to be used by individuals who have training in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and is primarily used by behavior analysts, speech-language pathologists, and special educators to assess strengths and weaknesses in skills and behaviors that might impede language and social development, but for a teacher without any background in ABA, the VB-MAPP can be very overwhelming. The results of the assessment help to guide curriculum planning and track skill acquisition.

The overall program contains the following five components:

The Milestones Skills Assessment - Assesses 170 milestones balanced across 3 levels of typical development (0-18 months; 18-30 months; and 30-48 months).  The milestones cover 16 key domains (e.g., mand, tact, intraverbal, listener, visual perceptual, play, social, and early academic skills). One of the 16 areas, the echoic, includes the Early Echoic Skills Assessment (EESA) developed by Dr. Barbara Esch, SLP-CCC, BCBA-D.

The Barriers Assessment - Assesses 24 language and learning barriers that may be preventing a child of any age from making progress (e.g., prompt dependency, non compliance, behavior problems, impaired mands, demand weakens motivation, sensory defensiveness). 

The Transition Assessment – Assesses 18 different areas that can assist the IEP team in making transition and educational placement decisions for a child (e.g., overall Milestones and Barriers scores, social skills, group learning, independent work, self-care skills, adaptability to change). 

The Skills Task Analysis and Tracking System - Contains over 900 skills that support the Milestones. For example, for the mand 15 Milestones are identified for purposes of assessment, but the Task Analysis contains a total of 93 individual manding skills that can provide suggestions for daily mand training. Some of the tasks are earlier steps toward the targeted milestone, while others are additional skills that are independent of the milestones, but contribute to the overall development of the targeted domain. Also, VB-MAPP task analysis section contains a tracking system that can allow for the easy identification of which skills have been acquired.

Placement and IEP Goals – Suggestions for programming are presented for each of the 170 Milestones. This section describes how to analyze a child’s VB-MAPP in order to establish priorities and the most effective intervention program. For example, once a child reaches a specific Milestone, what’s next? The focus is on establishing a balance among all the skills, establishing their functional use in the natural environment, promoting generative and spontaneous usage of the skills, and verbal and social integration with other children. In addition, a variety of potential IEP goals are presented for each section, at each developmental level.

This newer assessment tool has many advantages over the ABLLS.  Some of the things that I like better about the VB-MAPP include: 
  • Skills as well as barriers are assessed; 
  • The tool was field tested with over 150 typical children and dozens of children with autism; 
  • 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; 
  • Once the VB-MAPP is completed, the boxes can be added up to obtain a score (making progress more objective);
  • Provides clear mastery criteria for each skill (i.e., array of 6 for 40 different objects)
  • Teachers 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; 
  • The VB-MAPP contains a transition assessment which is helpful in making decisions about the level of inclusion or group instruction that may be appropriate; and 
  • I find the VB- MAPP to be easier to administer.

With all of these advantages over the ABLLS, there are still some limitations to the VB-MAPP that make its use in a Special Education classroom or inclusive classroom setting less than ideal.  Some of these include:
  • The requirement of an individual with a background and training in ABA, VBA and linguistic structure to administer and analyze the assessment.
  • Scoring is not as straight forward as the ABLLS. It requires the use of some subtests and transfer of scores from subtests in order to score the basic grid and might be more difficult for teachers.
  • Because it assesses Milestones, it offers a list of what would be considered by
    the author the most important skills to teach your child but does not attempt to
    be a complete list of missing skills as the ABLLS-R does.
  •  The focus on language and social skill development is an excellent feature for students with Autism and some other developmental disabilities, however, this tool cannot be used for a wide range of students with various disabilities and learning profiles.  (i.e., students with physical disabilities or complex needs)
  •  The goals for reading, writing and math are very limited (15 goals in total).
  • The VB-MAPP is really only appropriate for students in preschool, kindergarten and the early primary grades or students with severe deficits in communication and social skill development.
  • The focus on manding, tacting and echoics somewhat limits its use for students who use AAC devices and systems of communication.
  • Some targets are time sensitive and harder to test in group situations.
   Do you use the VB-MAPP in your classroom? I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!  Leave me a comment below and I will respond!  And be sure to drop by Autism Classroom News to read about Chris' views on Unique Learning Systems.

And don't forget to come back next Wednesday for our final week on Alternative Curricula!  I will be reviewing the Hawaii Early Learning Profile and Chris will be discussing some other functional curricula on the market!

Until then,


  1. Thanks for your post. The VB-MAPP is used in my district as a progress monitoring system for our students. Its a good developmental scale, but doing the actual testing 2x a year proves to be very difficult with all the cards and pictures needed to complete it. Have you come in contact with anyone that has found a good and quick way to complete the assessment. I have 6 students and we are in week 3 of the school year and I havent even been able to make a dent in the baseline testing for the year!! Thanks! I would love to hear of any feedback you might have! Stubbsd@santarosa.k12.fl.us

  2. I have been wanting to use this for a while now. I have worked briefly with the author years ago and was very impressed with the amount of knowledge I gained from him inn the short time. I have been a big fan of many of his publishings. The district I work in currently does not have something specific to the autistic students so this sounds like what I need. I am curious about the difficulty in using it though. It would be so beneficial to have some formal training using it.

  3. In Pennsylvania the state training and technical assistance network provides a four day training to teams that provides a foundation for implementing the VB-MAPP. There are also many archived videos of the annual National Autism Conference held at Penn State that may be helpful. An understanding of ABA and Discrete Trial teaching is important. Yes, it is overwhelming to be assessing the whole class! I made some whole class tracking sheets so that my paraeducators could assist me with some of the areas such as picture to object matching. The observation areas are the hardest to collect data for me. My first year I had six new kindergartners and it was the end of October before I wrote some good programs for my students!


Recommendations by Engageya