VB-MAPP Unplugged Part I

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There are few things I enjoy more in my job than reviewing a child’s VB-MAPP* progress. The reasons I love it so much are that (1) not being able to get into the field as much as I would like, I get to see a snapshot of the real-life language and skills that a child is showing, and (2) it is such a happy thing to see the often remarkable progress that they have made as a result of our partnership with their family.

When I look at a VB-MAPP progress grid, I can actually see that child, in some ways even more than if I were to casually observe the actual child. I can see what they can do, what they can’t do, what their special strengths might be if they are off the charts in some skill. I can see what they need to work on and a lot of what’s holding them back. I can see imbalances in their skills and how far they have come and how close they are to kids their age in their language skills.

But what specifically is the VB-MAPP? 

The simple answer is that it’s a language assessment. But there are hundreds of language assessments. This one is special because it is specifically for children with a diagnosis of autism (but can be used for others with language deficits), and, because unlike all other language assessments, it pinpoints and provides the actual details of where to start teaching any individual child. Another way to say that is that it’s not just an assessment, it’s an assessment that includes a curriculum.

It is also an assessment that can be used to track progress, using the language skills of same-aged typically developing peers as a comparison. It gives us the information of what specifically a child needs to do to catch up. Every six months we do an update and we can see how many months of progress a child has made during that time. This is where is can get really exciting. For example, a 3-year-old child might be right around the 12-month average of typical peers during assessment, and then at re-evaluation in 6 months, they might be right around the 24-month average of typical peers. That translates to a year of progress in six months.

The VB-MAPP is rooted in the work of B.F. Skinner; specifically, his book Verbal Behavior, which is a behavioral analysis of language. Haha – who cares (other than academic types)? The reason to care is that the entire foundation of ABA comes from Skinner’s analyses. With no Skinner it is likely there would be no ABA. So it makes sense that Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior is going to dovetail perfectly with any genuine ABA program. Moreover, his analysis is so in-depth and thorough that we have a massive foundation upon which to analyze any roadblocks a child might have when acquiring language.

Finally, it is the life’s work of Dr. Mark Sundberg. Just as it took years and years for ABA to be developed into a usable treatment from the basic science, it has taken years for Verbal Behavior to be developed. And one of the most important milestones in the application of Verbal Behavior for the treatment of children with autism is the VB-MAPP. 

*Verbal Behavior Milestone Assessment and Program Placement