Why I’m Sticking with the VB-MAPP!

When I wrote my Verbal Behavior Approach book in 2006, I didn’t mention the VB-MAPP because it wasn’t published yet. In my book, I talked exclusively about the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning skills, otherwise known as the ABLLS, which was written by Dr. James Partington and Dr. Mark Sundberg in 1998. The ABLLS was not written as a standalone book, but instead one of three books that were written to go together.

Many people, including me, credit the publication of Dr. Sundberg and Partington’s three book collection, including the ABLLS, with the creation of The Verbal Behavior Approach. I can say that without the ABLLS, my son with autism (who is now a young adult), would not have progressed to the point he is now, and I most likely wouldn’t have become a BCBA either or ever written my book. I’m therefore eternally grateful to Dr. Sundberg and Partington for publishing the ABLLS.

I used the ABLLS starting in 1999 when my autism friend flew down to Florida to hear Dr. Vincent Carbone speak. When she came back, she told me about the ABLLS and convinced me that we needed to switch from a Lovaas type ABA program to a verbal behavior ABA program. As a BCBA, I continued to use the ABLLS until 2008 through my work with the Pennsylvania Verbal Behavior Project, which is now known as The PATTAN Autism ABA Supports Initiative (pattan.net).

In 2006, I had the great opportunity with the VB project to field test the Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program, otherwise known as the VB-MAPP, which was written by Dr. Mark Sundberg and was published in 2008. We began switching over from the ABLLS to the VB-MAPP, actually, in 2006 when we were field testing it, and officially switched over to the VB-MAPP only in 2008 when Dr. Sundberg that year. This awesome assessment and curricular guide was published by avbpress.com, and for several years, there’s also been a wonderful electronic version of the VB-MAPP, which is available at vbmappapp.com.

Here are a few reasons why I love using the VB-MAPP, not only for toddlers and very young children, but also for older children and teens with severe language impairments. First of all, Dr. Mark Sundberg created the VB-MAPP first starting with milestones of where typically developing infants and toddlers gain language, social, and play skills. It was crafted based on typical development. The assessment was also field tested with more than 150 infants and toddlers typically developing and dozens of kids with autism.

I love how the VB-MAPP is structured with three distinct levels. VB-MAPP level one is typical development of a 0 to 18-month-old child. Level two is that of an 18 month to 30-month child, and level there is 30 months to 48 months. So some people say, “Oh, well that’s great for little kids, but when a child becomes a teenager, no matter where their language is at, we need to get more functional.” I disagree with that. I think the most functional thing you can do for an older child or a teen with little to no language is to complete a VB-MAPP assessment, and I use it all the time.

The second reason I like the assessment and use it every day is that unlike most other assessments that I’m familiar with, the VB-MAPP looks at not only “good” or “pro-social” behaviors, like language and play skills that we want to encourage, but it also looks at the “bad” problem behaviors or barriers with a whole separate barrier assessment. I find, especially when we used to use the ABLLS, we were just trying to fill up the boxes as hard as we could. Meanwhile, the child’s behavior was becoming more and more problematic. With the VB-MAPP, we can look at where the barriers and problem behaviors are happening, look at where the milestones are, and get those problem behaviors down while we build the milestones up. So the barriers assessment is definitely one of the reasons I love using the VB-MAPP.

Once the VB-MAPP is completed, the boxes can be added up so the child can get a score, both in the milestones as well as the barriers. The electronic version of the VB-MAPP automatically fills in the boxes and creates the score. This is great for objective use, for pre and post-scoring of the child’s progress and is appealing to researchers as well. I find that the practitioners who use the VB-MAPP are more likely to develop balanced programs with an emphasis on pairing and manding and improving a child’s deficits without further splintering skills or creating new and more severe problem behaviors. The VB-MAPP contains a transition assessment, too, which is helpful when it’s time to decide what level of inclusion in school is most appropriate.

The final reason I like using the VB-MAPP is that I find it’s relatively easy to administer every four to 12 months to measure progress. My early learner and intermediate learner online courses walk parents and professionals through the VB-MAPP assessment and programming. All the procedures within my online courses focus on measuring language and learning skills, measured by the VB-MAPP milestones and transition assessments, while reducing problem behavior measured by the barrier assessment.

For more information about this awesome tool, including research studies utilizing the VB-MAPP, check out avbpress.com, MarkSundberg.com, and vbmappapp.com. Thank you very much, and I’ll see you next week.