Prioritizing ABA Therapy goals can be one of the most confusing parts of beginning or continuing therapy services. Sometimes it may seem that there is an overwhelming amount of skills and subskills to tackle, making goal selection difficult and tedious. At BCOTB, we prioritize skills based off various assessments designed to give a complete outlook of your child’s individualized needs. We use the VB- MAPP, as well as the Essential for Living Assessment Manual. The VB- MAPP assesses prerequisite skills for academic success, and the Essential for Living Manual assesses daily skills that impact your child’s independent functioning. We review these assessments along with your input to help prioritize ABA Therapy goals and objectives.

At BCOTB, we always prioritize a child’s ability to communicate his or her wants and needs. We often find that when a child is unable to communicate requests, he or she will engage in socially inappropriate behavior in order to achieve a desired result. For instance, a child might immediately begin to whine and cry upon seeing a cookie. The child might then be given the cookie to calm him or her down. This pattern may teach the child that crying is an effective way to get his or her needs met. Crying would then replace asking as a form of communication. Depending on your child’s needs, we may teach him or her to communicate vocally, with sign language, or with a picture exchange system.

We also place primary focus on teaching children to request so that language becomes valuable to them. If language is not valuable to a child, he or she would not be likely to start using language to label, repeat after others, or to engage in conversation. When a child is first learning to speak, language becomes valuable as the child learns that his or her words result in a desired consequence, whether it be a desired item or interaction.

When beginning therapy, children may exhibit deficits in academics (e.g., labeling, identifying colors and shapes, writing, reading, counting, etc.) and leisure skills (e.g., cutting, coloring, etc.), among other skills. While these skills are important and will ultimately help a child be successful in the classroom, we prioritize teaching prerequisite skills and functional behaviors before focusing on these more specific deficits. You can think about following basic directions as being a functional prerequisite skill to more tedious academic and leisure tasks.


The following section discusses some of the essential skills that we look for when prioritizing programming:

  • Making requests
  • Waiting
  • Accepting the removal of preferred items
  • Transitioning
  • Accepting “No”
  • Following Directions

Once a child has made progress with these essential skills, we might either focus on academic skills, such as labeling, matching, reading, writing, etc. or more functional skills related to daily living, such as brushing one’s teeth and tying one’s shoes. This decision is made with the child’s parents and is based off many factors: the child’s age, grade level, strengths and weaknesses, etc.

When prioritizing academic skills, we analyze assessment data from the VB- MAPP to ensure that there is an even progression in a child’s development. This basically means that we are ensuring that the child’s skill level is equal or close to equal in all categories from the VB- MAPP. These categories include requesting, labeling, following directions, completing various visual performance tasks, playing, socializing, imitating, and engaging in conversation. While it is normal for a child to have strengths and weaknesses in various areas, sometimes a weakness in one area will impede further learning in another area due to weak or nonexistent prerequisite skills. For instance, if a child does not fluently label his or her environment, then his or her conversational skills would be impeded. We thus focus on building a good repertoire of labeling before making language more complex within a conversation.

When prioritizing functional daily living skills, we complete a thorough assessment with the Essential for Living Assessment Manual. This assessment helps us identify all the necessary routines that a child is expected to complete independently. We then work with parents to see which skills/routines they would like to target during therapy. At BCOTB we normally teach these skills using task analyses, which break these more complex skills down into their individual components for instruction.

If you are having difficulty pinpointing which skills you would like to see your child learn during therapy, please ask your child’s analyst for his or her recommendations, and feel free to voice your own concerns and expectations. Selecting programming is a group effort guided by assessment data. If you would like more information on the assessments we use, please see one of our analysts for more information. We are always available to schedule meetings for additional training and support.

McGreevy, P., Fry, T, & Cornwall, C. (2012). Essential for living: The assessment and record of progress (APR) manual. Winter Park, FL: Patrick McGreevy.
Sundberg, M. L. (2008) Verbal behavior milestones assessment and placement program: The VB-MAPP. Concord, CA: AVB Press.

Published On: October 26th, 2015 / Categories: Blog, Self-Help Skills /

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