ABLLS-R Assessment: An Overview

This post is targeted to families  doing an initial or updated assessment on their own child (while targeted to families, this post could also be helpful for professionals who are new to assessing).
 It's always recommended for any in -home program that a qualified BCBA is in charge of writing programs, doing assessments, and generally overseeing the progress of the child. However, for many different reasons that isn't always possible. Many families cant afford to hire a BCBA or live in rural/international areas where BCBA's aren't readily available.

If you are a parent running your child's in home ABA program then you need to be very familiar with the ABLLS-R assessment tool. This is an educational assessment tool created by Drs. Sundberg and Partington. The ABLLS-R (pronounced "A-bulls") is a comprehensive and extremely useful way to assess a child's level of functioning in a multitude of domains, such as Visual Performance, Fine Motor Skills, Math Skills, etc. What distinguishes the most commonly used ABA assessments (ABBLS-R and VB-MAPP) from psychological tests or assessments is a focus on the core deficits of Autism: communication/language and social deficits.

 You might also be familiar with the VB-MAPP, which was created by Dr. Sundberg. Its a newer assessment, and more likely to be used by professionals than parents. I dont have much experience with the VB MAPP, but have been using the ABLLS for years.

For more information about these two assessment tools, please follow the links below:



When I work with families who are new to the ABLLS they usually want to know if they should buy the whole kit or not. When you purchase the ABLLS assessment online, unless it specifies you are ordering a kit what you are really buying are the protocols. These are the manual, and the actual book that you use to score your child's responses to a very large amount of  tasks (the ABBLS has 25 skill areas and each area can contain anywhere from 20-40 questions). Sometimes families are upset to purchase the ABLLS online and then it arrives and its just 2 books.

If you do purchase the ABLLS kit, what you are buying is a large selection of items and materials that match up to specific ABLLS tasks. For example, puzzles, items to sort, items to count, picture cards, fine motor items, a doll with clothing that can be snapped/zipped/buttoned, etc. I have seen --and had to transport around-- this kit, and its a very large and bulky. Depending on your budget its also somewhat pricey. The average cost of the ABLLS kit is around $1500. Purchasing just the ABLLS books is around $70.

It does make sense to purchase the ABLLS kit if you are a therapist who assesses often, or if you work with an agency or school.  I know of some families who have combined as a group to buy a kit and then shared it amongst all their children. Another benefit of buying the complete kit is after the assessment is done you now have multiple items and materials to use to teach skills.

However, you can also use items around your home to complete the assessment. For certain tasks it may be necessary to make or purchase supplies, especially if the assessment is asking you to test a skill using multiple items (like 50 common objects).

Once you have the books and all the materials gathered, then you are ready to begin the assessment:

  • Each parent or caregiver should review the domains and see if any are not applicable. For example, many of the children I do an initial assessment on are very young/Early Learners so domains such as Syntax and Grammar, or Spelling Skills typically are not applicable to a child under 3. Look for domains that your child isnt ready for yet so you know to skip those areas (such as Intraverbals. If your child isnt verbal, you do not need to assess their intraverbal abilities). Read through the manual and answer as many questions as you can based on your knowledge of your child, and skills you have directly observed.
  •  Once you have eliminated domains that are N/A, and answered as many questions as you can, all that is left is direct testing. Particularly if your child is young, they may not be used to a testing scenario. You will need powerful and varied reinforcers to keep your child motivated, engaged, and willing to complete the assessment.  To your child, the assessment process will range from very easy  to very hard. Know this before you begin and have plenty of reinforcers, snacks, juice, etc., on hand.  Be prepared for the assessment process to take 2-6 hours, or maybe even days, depending on the child. 
  •  Complete the assessment making sure to accurately fill out the ABLLS protocol. Children need to be re-assessed roughly every 6 months or so, so if you don't fill out the protocol accurately and clearly you are creating more work for yourself when it is time to re-assess. Don't become upset or frustrated if your child tunes out, spaces out, attempts to leave the room, or dissolves into tears during the assessment process. Think of this as a huge pop quiz to your child. Do you like pop quizzes? Probably not. If the child refuses to respond, then score accordingly. It is okay to try to come back to items later, but don't ask your child the same item over and over. Its an assessment-- you aren't teaching yet.
  •  Once you have completed the assessment and given your child a much deserved break, score your protocol and review your notes. This is the point where you now have a snapshot of your child's current functioning level, and their strengths as well as weaknesses. The assessment guides the program writing process and should lead you directly into creating goals.

I found a blog a few months ago that gives practical ideas on how to create or find materials for programs that are written directly from an ABLLS assessment. The blog is: Practical ABLLS
It has lots of ideas on what to use for a program. It can sometimes be very difficult to know HOW to teach a program. The assessment will tell you what to teach, but it wont always tell you HOW. Many skills have prerequisites that need to be taught first, and there definitely is somewhat of a hierarchy regarding what to teach. If your child cannot request items they want or need, that is more important than teaching them to jump rope.

Assessment and program writing can be a  tedious and difficult process, but in no way is it impossible for a parent to do. Not all parents have the ability to hire a team of therapists or a BCBA. Read and research all you can, talk to other parents, see if you can find a BCBA who will train you to implement the assessment yourself, and lastly: believe that you are able to do this.

 Watch the videos below for a video tour of the ABLLS-R:

Video 1

Video 2

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