Every child we see at our clinic is unique and has a different skill set. The first step toward developing a program that addresses the specific needs of each child is conducting an assessment of their current abilities and deficits. The assessment tool we use is called the Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) which was developed by Mark L. Sundberg, PhD, BCBA. This assessment is based on B.F. Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior in which he presented the theory that language should be divided into categories based on function. Some of the categories which are assessed are mands (asking questions), tacts (labeling), listener responding (receptive language), visual perceptual skills and matching-to-sample (includes skills such as completing puzzles and completing patterns), independent play, social behavior, motor imitation, and intraverbals (answering questions and conversational speech).
The VB-MAPP divides each category into levels based on the abilities of an average child at certain ages. Level 1 is 0-18 months, Level 2 is 18-30 months, and Level 3 is 30-48 months. Within each of these levels are several Milestones which specify certain skills a child within that age range should possess. Each Milestone is then further broken down into the component skills which it might be necessary to teach for a child to achieve all the goals for that Milestone and to prepare for future Milestones. For example, a Milestone for intraverbals is: Answers 25 different what questions. The components of this Milestone include: completes 10 different verb-noun fill-in-the-blank phrases, answers 10 different what questions with a verb as the primary cue (e.g., What do you brush?), answers 10 different what questions with a noun as the primary cue (e.g., What’s in the barn?), and when asked a what question (e.g., What do you eat?) provides 2 or more members of each category (e.g., pizza and apple). The chart below illustrates the structure of the assessment:
5 milestones per category for each level
Between 2-6 component skills per Milestone
Visual perceptual skills and matching-to-sample
Matches any 10 identical items.
|Completes a 3-piece in-set puzzle without physical prompts.Puts 2 similar items together 2 times.|
Tacts 25 items when asked, “What’s that?”
|Tacts 4 different people, pets, or characters by their specific name.Tacts 2 actions when asked, “What am I doing?”|
Follows 2 instructions involving 6 different prepositions (e.g., Stand behind the chair.) and 4 different pronouns (e.g., Touch my ear.)
|Follows instructions to take an item to 5 different locations.Discriminates between males and females given a pronoun.|
During a VB-MAPP assessment, the therapist will start from the most basic Milestone for each category and test each skill until the child cannot perform 3 consecutive tasks. The therapist will then test the component skills of the Milestone skill which the child could not perform. The component skills which the child cannot do will be selected as targets during therapy sessions.
Each child is reassessed annually to monitor progress. Additionally, reviews of the child’s current programs are conducted every 4-6 weeks to monitor progress on individual skills, make changes to teaching procedures if progress is not being made, and add new targets when others are mastered. When a child has mastered all of the Milestones in the VB-MAPP we may move on to academic programs or higher order language programs to prepare the child for school.
In addition to the skills assessment, the VB-MAPP also has assessments for barriers, echoic skills, and transitions. The purpose of the barriers assessment is to determine whether certain obstacles that might impede learning exist for a child. There can be many different reasons for a barrier to exist so if a barrier is identified, the therapist will conduct an analysis to determine the nature of the problem for that child and how to address it. The echoic skills assessment evaluates the child’s ability to imitate spoken sounds and words. Finally, the transitions assessment is designed to assess skills relevant to determining a child’s educational placement.
Overall, the VB-MAPP allows us to evaluate each child’s abilities and weaknesses and create a program that will best address the child’s needs. The comprehensiveness of the assessment enables us to evaluate and teach anyone from early learners with no communication skills to children preparing to transition to school settings.