VB-MAPP Assessments: A Plain-Language Guide for Parents

The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) is a tool used in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). It provides Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and other educators with an effective way to determine the learning, language, and social skills of children with developmental delays such as Autism. This article will give you a better understanding of the VB-MAPP and the role it plays in ABA therapy.

What is the VBMAPP Assessment?

Definition and Purpose

The VB-MAPP was developed by Dr. Mark Sundberg based on B.F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior, a pivotal analysis of the study of language in 1957. It combines the principles of ABA and Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior to provide a behavior-based language assessment, curriculum guide, and skills-tracking program. The VB-MAPP is criterion-referenced and field-tested against typically developing children and children with Autism.  This means it measures how well a child performs compared to an objective rather than another child.

The assessment and guide provide a baseline level of the language and social skills of a child with Autism or developmental delays, while also examining their learning style to develop an individualized curriculum and track their progress throughout learning. A child’s skill levels are evaluated using 170 of the key milestones in early childhood development. The VB-MAPP shows both the function of language and behavior and any barriers to learning that children may be experiencing.

Importance

It is important to provide a baseline level of language and social skills to determine if an intervention program is warranted. If intervention is warranted, the data from the VB-MAPP assessment will provide the necessary information to determine the elements of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and a language curriculum. The VB-MAPP guides key inquiries:

  1. The skills that will be the focus of the intervention.
  2. The level of the skill in which the intervention should begin.
  3. The barriers to learning and language acquisition that need to be addressed (e.g., echolalia).
  4. The type of augmentative communication, if any, that is necessary.
  5. The specific teaching strategies that will be most effective (e.g., discrete trial training or natural environment training).
  6. The type of educational setting best suited for the child (e.g., 1:1, small groups).

Components of the VB-MAPP Assessment

There are four components of the VB-MAPP Assessment:

Milestones Assessment

The first component is the VB-MAPP Milestones Assessment which contains 170 learning and language milestones that are sequenced and balanced across 3 levels: Level 1 (0-18 Months), Level 2 (18-30 Months), and Level 3 (30-48 Months).

At level 1 the child is tested for mand (requesting), tact (labeling), listener responding, visual perception and matching, independent play, social skills, imitation, echoic skills, and spontaneous vocal behavior.

Level 2 adds listener responding by function, feature, and class (prompted conversation skills), intraverbal (unprompted conversation skills), classroom routines and group skills, and linguistic structure, while no longer assessing or tracking spontaneous vocal behavior. Level 3 adds reading, writing, and mathematics, while no longer assessing or tracking imitation and echoic skills.

Early Echoic Skills Assessment

The Early Echoic Skills Assessment (EESA) is a subtest included in the milestones assessment that assesses echoic skills at level 1 and level 2 of the VB-MAPP. It determines a child’s ability to repeat a speech model (e.g., say mama). Echoic skills are essential in learning how to talk and in acquiring more complex forms of language. Even if children are beginning to make sounds or say words on their own, it is important to evaluate their ability to make sounds in response to hearing these models from someone else.

Barriers Assessment  

The third component of the VB-MAPP is the barriers assessment which determines the presence of 24 learning and language acquisition barriers frequently faced by children with Autism or developmental delays. Some examples include weak motivators, failure to generalize, hyperactivity, self-stimulation, and defective articulation. By identifying these barriers, the BCBA can develop specific intervention strategies based on the principles of ABA to overcome them and create a more effective learning process.

Transition Assessment  

The fourth component is the VB-MAPP transition assessment, which provides an objective evaluation of the child’s overall skill level and existing learning capabilities. This assessment contains 18 areas that help to determine if the child is making meaningful progress and has acquired the necessary skills to be in a less restrictive learning environment. The assessment includes several summary measures from other components of the VB-MAPP, such as the milestones and barriers assessment, as well as the rate of skill acquisition, spontaneity, and retention.

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How is the VB-MAPP Conducted?

If the VB-MAPP tool is being used for research or an outcome study, the assessment should be conducted rigidly and sequentially. However, the more common use of the assessment is for intervention where the goal is to establish an IEP efficiently and effectively.

Process

For use in intervention planning, information can be gathered in a variety of ways, including interviews with parents and caregivers. If reliable information can be provided it can significantly speed up the assessment process. However, the assessment of some skills requires observation or formal testing by a professional.

Many skills can be assessed by simply observing the child in the natural environment, such as play and social skills. Does the child interact with others or imitate their peers? Some skills require the observation to be a specific time, such as the number of minutes spent in a group setting. Other skills are best assessed with direct testing such as being able to label “long” and “short”.

The specific method of measurement is identified for each milestone on the VB-MAPP scoring form. There are four methods used:

  1. Formal testing (T): consists of specifically presenting the child with a task and recording the response. For example, showing the child an item and asking, “What’s that?” The child’s response is recorded as correct or incorrect, with the goal being to determine if the child can or cannot emit the skill.
  2. Observation (O): consists of watching for the skill to occur in a variety of environments without any involvement by the assessor. The assessor would simply note whether or not the behavior occurred.
  3. Either formal testing or observation (E): The skill can be assessed either from direct testing or by the assessor observing the child. For example, requesting missing items can be observed in a naturalistic setting, or it can directly be tested by contriving opportunities to emit the skill.
  4. Timed observation (TO): this is used when the skill must occur within a particular period. For example, Milestones 1-5 states that a child will spontaneously imitate a peer 2 times within 30 minutes. To receive a point for this measure, the child must emit the response within the fixed time.

The first step in the assessment process is to conduct a parent or caregiver interview. There are language assessment interview forms, such as one developed by Dr. Mark Sundberg and others that directly relate to the milestones in the VB-MAPP. The results from the interview can be used to pre-score the milestones assessment, thus eliminating the need for observation or formal testing of the skill.

Secondly, an observation of the child should be conducted. This can occur in multiple settings such as the home, school, or clinical setting. Finally, the assessor will directly assess the remaining skills. However, before this occurs, the assessor should establish rapport with the child by pairing with fun activities and reinforcement delivery. This will provide a more accurate response to tasks during testing.

Tools and Material

VBMAPP2

The use of milestones helps to reduce the number of materials necessary for the assessment. Many of the items can be readily found in a classroom or at home, and some parts of the assessment can be conducted in the natural environment such as a playroom, park, or playground. A list of suggested materials is:

  • Stopwatch or device to measure time.
  • Pencil and data sheets for notetaking and tallying responses.
  • Reinforcing items such as bubbles or preferred toys.
  • Pictures of family members, pets, and everyday familiar items.
  • Common objects such as a toothbrush or spoon.
  • Inset puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, shape sorts, stackers, and blocks.
  • Developmentally appropriate picture books.
  • Flash cards with items, letters numbers, and sight words.
  • Items with multiple parts such as Potato Head.
  • Sets of identical items, colored items, and items belonging to a category (e.g., animals).
  • Children’s scissors, glue sticks, crayons, and paper.
  • Items that make environmental sounds (e.g. phone ringing).
  • Props for pretend play (e.g. tea set).
  • Short story seriation cards.
  • Items to compare size and weight.
  • Some items for counting.

Interpreting VBMAPP Results

There is space on the forms for four separate assessments of the VB-MAPP, but additional assessments can be conducted if needed. Assessments are typically done every 4 to 6 months. Each milestone is assigned a score based on specific criteria. The scores range from 0 to 1, with 0 indicating the absence of a response or an incorrect response, .5 indicating a partial response, and 1 indicating an accurate and independent response. The cumulative score is then used to create the child’s learning profile on the master scoring form.

The master scoring form, which looks like a bar graph, is used to reflect the child’s overall profile. Each assessment is highlighted using a different color so parents and educators can track the rate of skill acquisition and the specific skills learned between assessments.

Score Interpretation

The VB-MAPP is divided into three developmental levels, each representing a set of skills appropriate for that age group. Therefore, a child’s scores in each category can provide insight into their current developmental level. For example, if a child, 30 months old, is assessed and placed mostly in level 1 (0-18 months), this would indicate they are developmentally delayed by at least one year.

Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses

To identify strengths and weaknesses, parents should look at the overall pattern of scores for a holistic view of their child’s abilities. Areas where a child consistently scores 1 are considered strengths and indicate your child is proficient at that skill. Areas where a child scores 0 and .5 indicate the need for additional support and targeted intervention.

Parents should also identify if there are patterns of strengths and weaknesses. A consistent pattern of strength in a category can indicate a child’s interest or passion that can be further used to develop their weak areas. For example, if a child consistently scores high in completing puzzles, puzzles can be used to help motivate a child to ask for missing items.

Utilizing VB-MAPP for Individualized Intervention

The results of the Milestones Assessment, the Barriers Assessment, and the Transition Assessment provide a comprehensive overview of the child and can be used to design individualized intervention programs. The three assessments will identify what skills the child needs to learn and what language and learning barriers need to be reduced or removed for improved progress.

Tailoring Intervention

The VB-MAPP contains a task analysis which is a further breakdown of the skills targeted during the Milestones assessment. There are approximately 900 skills that cover all the areas of the VB-MAPP. Once the milestones have been assessed and the general level has been established the task analysis is used to teach supporting components of the milestone targets.

In addition, the VB-MAPP contains a placement and IEP goals section, which provides specific direction for each of the 170 milestones being assessed and suggestions for IEP goals. This helps BCBAs to keep programs balanced while ensuring that all relevant target areas are included in the intervention.

There are special considerations for each level of the VB-MAPP:

  • Level 1 – This child needs intense and direct language and social skills intervention programs. The number of teaching hours should be substantial, such as 25 hours per week, and occur daily with organized, planned, and clear targets. This child will benefit most from best-practice behavioral and educational intervention.
  • Level 2- This child is at risk for rote learning as a result of a poorly sequenced curriculum. Every child is unique and multiple variables need to be considered such as learning barriers, rate of acquisition, family support, resources, and educational setting. If a child does not have the basic support skills necessary for generalization, rote learning is more likely to occur.
  • Level 3 – As language becomes more complex many more risk factors need to be mitigated during the development of an IEP. The language in level 3 contains complex motivating operations and verbal responses. Difficulty in acquiring them can result in difficulty in social behavior because requesting and having conversations are at the core of social interactions.

Collaborating with Professionals

The task analysis can provide parents and educators with a variety of activities to facilitate generalization, maintenance, spontaneity, retention, expansion, and the functional use of skills being taught. Language and social skill intervention must be 24/7, and teaching should be provided by all individuals who interact with the child on a daily or weekly basis.

Collaborating with professionals can reduce missed opportunities to generalize skills being taught in the ABA setting. In addition, shared goals will minimize the occurrence of conflicting or incompatible skills being taught. The goals can be aligned with educational objectives and thus seamlessly integrated into the school setting.

Tracking Progress Over Time

VB-MAPP for ABA therapy

The VB-MAPP scores serve as a benchmark for tracking progress over time and for evaluating the effectiveness of the intervention program.

Importance of Ongoing Assessment

Ongoing assessments are important because it allows the BCBA to track the child’s progress over time. It will provide a dynamic picture of the child’s development to identify trends, strengths, and weaknesses. As the child progresses, these may change, and ongoing assessments will provide the BCBA with the ability to continuously tailor interventions to meet the child’s needs.

A child may achieve goals faster or slower than anticipated, new skills can emerge without direct teaching or new barriers can be developed over time. Ongoing assessments will enable the professional to adjust goals and identify emerging skills that can be incorporated into their program. In addition, the BCBA will be able to respond to barriers promptly to facilitate continued progress and generalization of skills.

Celebrating Milestones

Small achievements contribute to the overall progress of a child and should be celebrated by parents. These celebrations help to increase a child’s confidence and motivate the child to continue their effort to learn new skills. This creates a sense of shared joy and accomplishment that can enhance a parent’s bond with their child.

It is important to set realistic expectations and goals. Achieving milestones is more meaningful when the goals align with the child’s abilities. Focus on the effort the child puts into completing the task rather than the outcome. Acknowledge and praise their hard work and persistence even if the ultimate goal is not achieved.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to administer the VB-MAPP?

The length of administration depends on a variety of factors such as the child’s general level, his cooperation, and the assembly of materials. In general, it will take about 2 to 3 hours for a child in level 1, 4 to 5 hours for a child in level 2, and 8 to 10 hours for a child in level 3.

What is the age range for testing the VB-MAPP?

The focus of the VB-MAPP is for parents and professionals to gain information about a child’s language and social skills in individuals aged 0 to 48 months. However, it can be used with any individual with a language delay regardless of age. In addition, the barriers assessment reveals challenges that can affect children of all ages such as hyperactivity and difficulty adapting to change.

How often should you complete the VB-MAPP?

The VB-MAPP assessment should be conducted every 4 to 6 months to track the child’s progress. If a child is quickly moving through skills, assessments should be done more frequently.

What is the alternative to the VB-MAPP?

There are a few alternatives to the VB-MAPP:

  1. Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills – Revised (ABLLS-R)
  2. Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS)
  3. Promoting Emergence of Advanced Knowledge (PEAK)
  4. Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)

What is the difference between VB-MAPP and ABLLS?

Both VB-MAPP and ABLLS are assessment tools and curriculum guides used to determine specific language and learning skills a child needs to develop. While ABLLS is more user-friendly and a comprehensive language program, it is not developmentally sequenced and does not account for behavioral and sensory issues. On the other hand, the VB-MAPP is developmentally sequenced and includes a barriers and transition assessment that can help place children in the least restrictive environment.

What is the difference between PEAK and VB-MAPP?

Both VB-MAPP and PEAK are tools that can be used to evaluate language skills in children. However, PEAK provides a much more comprehensive assessment across a wider range of language and cognitive abilities. The first module of PEAK significantly correlates with VB-MAPP which means they target many of the same skills. PEAK begins to differ beyond the first module, where programming is designed to promote generalization and higher-order language. A second difference is the VB-MAPP is designed for younger children aged 0 to 4 years, while PEAK is designed for children 18 months to 18 years.

What age is level 3 VB-MAPP?

In the VB-MAPP, level 3 corresponds with children aged 30 to 48 months.

Is the VB-MAPP standardized?

The VB-MAPP is not a standardized assessment, rather it is a criterion-referenced assessment. This means students are compared to objectives rather than other students.

Conclusion

Parents become empowered when they have a deeper understanding of the assessment tools being used as a part of their child’s therapy. It allows them to actively participate in their child’s developmental journey by providing insights that align with the relevant developmental targets and by allowing them to engage in tailored activities that address their child’s weaknesses. Parents play a crucial role in providing targeted support and fostering their child’s language and social skills development.

References

Skinner, B.F. (1957). Verbal Behavior. New York, NY: Appleton Century Crofts.

Sundberg, M.L. (2014). The verbal behavior milestones assessment and placement program: VB-MAPP (2nd ed.). Concord, CA: AVB Press.

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