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The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program: The VB-MAPP is a criterion-referenced assessment tool, curriculum guide, and skill tracking system that is designed for children with autism, and other individuals who demonstrate language delays. The VB-MAPP is based on B.F. Skinner’s (1957) analysis of verbal behavior, established developmental milestones, and research from the field of behavior analysis.
There are five components of the VB-MAPP, and collectively they provide a baseline level of performance, a direction for intervention, a system for tracking skill acquisition, a tool for outcome measures and other language research projects, and a framework for curriculum planning. Each of the skills in the VB-MAPP is not only measurable and developmentally balanced, but they are balanced across the verbal operants and other related skills. For example, many aspects of an intraverbal repertoire are based on an existing tact and listener repertoire. The VB-MAPP balances the curriculum in an attempt to avoid the common trap of developing rote responding due to deficiencies in the related verbal repertoires.

  • The first component is theVB-MAPP Milestones Assessment, which is designed to provide a representative sample of a child’s existing verbal and related skills. The assessment contains 170 measurable learning and language milestones that are sequenced and balanced across 3 developmental levels (0-18 months, 18-30 months, and 30-48 months). The skills assessed include mand, tact, echoic, intraverbal, listener, motor imitation, independent play, social and social play, visual perceptual and matching-to-sample, linguistic structure, group and classroom skills, and early academics. Included in the Milestones Assessment is the Early Echoic Skills Assessment (EESA) subtest developed by Barbara E. Esch, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, BCBA. 

  • The second component is the VB-MAPP Barriers Assessment, which provides an assessment of 24 common learning and language acquisition barriers faced by children with autism or other developmental disabilities. The barriers include behavior problems, instructional control, defective mands, defective tacts, defective echoic, defective imitation, defective visual perception and matching-to-sample, defective listener skills, defective intraverbal, defective social skills, prompt dependency, scrolling, defective scanning, defective conditional discriminations, failure to generalize, weak motivators, response requirement weakens the motivators, reinforcer dependency, self-stimulation, defective articulation, obsessive-compulsive behavior, hyperactive behavior, failure to make eye contact, and sensory defensiveness. By identifying these barriers, the clinician can develop specific intervention strategies to help overcome these problems, which can lead to more effective learning. 

  • The third component is the VB-MAPP Transition Assessment, which contains 18 assessment areas and can help to identify whether a child is making meaningful progress and has acquired the skills necessary for learning in a less restrictive educational environment. This assessment tool can provide a measurable way for a child’s IEP team to make decisions and set priorities in order to meet the child’s educational needs. The assessment is comprised of several summary measures from other parts of the VB-MAPP, as well as a variety of other skills that can affect transition. The assessment includes measures of the overall score on the VB-MAPP Milestones Assessment, the overall score on the VB-MAPP Barriers Assessment, negative behaviors, classroom routines and group skills, social skills, academic independence, generalization, variation of reinforcers, rate of skill acquisition, retention, natural environment learning, transfer skills, adaptability to change, spontaneity, independent play, general self-help, toileting skills, and eating skills. 

  • The fourth component is the VB-MAPP Task Analysis and Skills Tracking, which provides a further breakdown of the skills, and serves as a more complete and ongoing learning and language skills curriculum guide. There are approximately 900 skills presented covering the 16 areas of the VB-MAPP. Once the Milestones have been assessed and the general skill level has been established, the task analysis can provide further information about a particular child. The skills identified on the task analysis contain a wide range of supporting components of the target area. These skills may not be significant enough to identify as Milestones or IEP goals, but each of them play an important role in moving a child’s repertoire closer to that of a typically developing child. They also provide parents and teachers with a variety of activities that can facilitate generalization, maintenance, spontaneity, retention, expansion, and the functional use of skills in a variety of educational and social contexts. 

  • The task analysis of the learning and language skills contained in the VB-MAPP presents a new sequence of the verbal behavior curriculum that is developmentally balanced. Collectively, these four components of the VB-MAPP represent over 30 years of research, clinical work, field-testing, and revisions (Partington & Sundberg, 1998; Sundberg, 1980, 1983, 1987, 1990; Sundberg & Michael, 2001; Sundberg & Partington, 1998; Sundberg, Ray, Braam, Stafford, Rueber, & Braam, 1979).  

  • The fifth and final component is the VB-MAPP Placement and IEP Goals, which correspond with the four assessments above. The placement guide provides specific direction for each of the 170 milestones in the Milestones Assessment as well as suggestions for IEP goals. The placement recommendations can help the program designer balance out an intervention program, and ensure that all the relevant parts of the necessary intervention are included. 

The overall results of the VB-MAPP will provide valuable information that will serve as a guide for the development of an effective individualized language, social skills and learning curriculum. The VB-MAPP is now available through
The History and Field Testing of the VB-MAPP
The application of Skinner’s (1957) analysis of verbal behavior to language assessment contained in this book represents the efforts of many people over the past 50 years. Dr. Jack Michael has led the way as the consummate teacher of Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior, and as the visionary for its many applications.
Dr. Joseph Spradlin was the first to apply Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior to language assessment for the developmentally disabled. He created the Parsons Language Sample (Spradlin, 1963) and inspired many to join him in his use of Skinner’s analysis as the conceptual foundation of language assessment and intervention. This assessment is firmly rooted in Dr. Spradlin’s pioneering work.
My first versions of a verbal behavior assessment program were developed at The Kalamazoo Valley Multihandicap Center (KVMC) during the 1970’s while I was one of Jack Michael’s graduate students at Western Michigan University. An early version of the verbal behavior assessment and intervention program was developed at KVMC along with David A. Ray, Dr. Steven J. Braam, Mark W. Stafford, Thomas M. Rueber, and Dr. Cassandra Braam. Dr. Jerry Shook was the director of KVMC at the time and with his help and support, along with the conceptual and research support from Dr. Jack Michael, many of the applications of verbal behavior, which we now know today, were developed there. The assessment and application of verbal behavior continued to be researched and refined, and in the 1980’s Dr. A. Charles Catania, Dr. Ernest Vargas, Dr. Johnny Matson and Dr. Steve Bruening edited and helped me publish my next version of the verbal behavior assessment program. In the 1990’s Dr. James W. Partington, along with the staff from the STARS School in Danville, CA contributed to the 1998 version of the verbal behavior assessment program titled the “Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills: The ABLLS.”

This current verbal behavior assessment program has benefited greatly from recent input and field-testing by behavior analysts, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, special education teachers, psychologists, and parents of children with autism. Many have given me feedback on early drafts of the VB-MAPP and I am grateful for their suggestions in the on-going development of this assessment. I’d especially like to acknowledge those who have worked with me in classrooms for children with autism in the last few years; Dr. Mary Ann Powers, Rikki Roden, Kaisa Weathers, Shannon Rosenhan, and Shannon Montano.
The VB-MAPP has benefited from field-testing and valuable feedback from several groups around the United States and Canada including Dr. Carl Sundberg and his team at the Verbal Behavior Center for Autism in Indianapolis, IN, Michael Miklos and Dr. William Galbraith and their team at the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network: PaTTAN, Dr. Barbara Esch, CCC-SLP from Western Michigan University, Dr. Anne Cummings and Rebecca Godfrey from the Central-East Autism Program in Markham, Ontario, and Brenda Terzich from Applied Behavior Consultants based in Sacramento, CA. Lisa Hale and Cindy Sundberg have provided extensive field-testing with diverse groups of children. These data have been especially helpful in identifying many strengths and weaknesses across the verbal operants, especially the complex intraverbal repertoire. The data and feedback have provided us with a newer perspective on many training issues including the importance of play, pairing, generalization, social skills, and spontaneity at all levels, and the importance of teaching language in the natural environment.
The VB-MAPP represents a new generation of verbal behavior assessment in an on-going effort to improve the lives of individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities.

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