What Kind of Assessment is Right for Your Child?

By Mariela Vargas-Irwin, PSYD, BCBA-D, LABA, Executive Director of ABLS

Every day was hard with 5-year-old Tony. He would purposely find ways to annoy others and just did not seem to respond to consequences. The school tested him and said that there was nothing wrong; in fact, they said he was gifted.

Another child, Latoya, was never the same after being in a car accident. She cried all night and refused to get into any car. She also seemed to be unable to play with any of her previously preferred toys for long and had frequent tantrums.

Then there was 10-year-old Maria, who didn’t seem to be making any progress at school. She had an intellectual disability and her Individualized Education Program looked good on paper. However, she was becoming more aggressive each day and her language continued to be very limited.

Finally, Autumn, 2 years old, was in a fog. She stopped saying mama and dada, cried for no apparent reason, and ran in circles all the time.

Developmental and behavioral concerns about your children, such as those listed above, can be extremely distressing. Of course, you would do anything for your child!

But where to start?

What Tools Do I Need?

The first step is to consult your pediatrician. They will be able to rule out any possible medical problems and are more likely than a specialist to be able to see you quickly. Once a physical cause for your concerns is ruled out, your pediatrician will most likely refer you to a psychologist for an assessment. There are, however, several kinds of assessments that can be conducted.

A Comprehensive Diagnostic Assessment will include a cognitive and an adaptive assessment. It may include both norm-referenced assessments that compare children to others, as well as criterion-referenced tests that compare students to themselves. A Comprehensive Diagnostic assessment may result in a diagnosis such as Autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

The psychologist or a behavior analyst may also perform a Functional Behavior Assessment. A Functional Behavior Assessment examines the functions of the behavior via direct and indirect methods helping guide the development of a Behavior Support Plan.

Another type of assessment that may be helpful is a Program Assessment. A Program Assessment includes a visit to your child’s school to determine whether their needs are being met and their Individualized Education Program is being implemented properly.

Lastly, a Neuropsychological Assessment examines executive functioning skills, attention, and memory, in addition to cognitive and adaptive skills. 

How Would Assessments Help My Child?

To speak to the above examples, Tony would need a Comprehensive Diagnostic Assessment and a Functional Assessment to ascertain the function of his aggressive and disruptive behavior. The fact that he is gifted intellectually does not rule out that he may be struggling with Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity, Autism, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Latoya would need a neuropsychological assessment that will examine executive functions, language, and attention to ascertain the impact of the accident on her neuropsychological functions. Typically, a complete neuropsychological assessment is conducted immediately after the accident and then repeated every six months.

Meanwhile, Maria would require a Program Assessment to determine whether her school program is meeting her needs. This assessment should include a complete review of her progress reports in addition to a visit to her school. She may also need a Functional Assessment of her aggressive behavior at home.

Lastly, Autumn urgently needs a Comprehensive Diagnostic Assessment to rule out Autism.  If she does have Autism, she will need intensive early behavior analytic intervention to be implemented as soon as possible so time is of the essence. 

Whatever the assessment process holds for your learner, it is important that the instruments used are both reliable and valid, and ideally they would be able to be utilized to track progress over time. Every child is different; therefore, no assessment process will proceed identically. 

About the Author

Dr. Mariela Vargas obtained her doctoral degree from Rutgers University, completed her internship at Boston Children’s Hospital, and pursued post-doctoral training at the Baker Children’s Center. She has over thirty years of experience working with children with autism and other developmental disorders with behavioral challenges. Dr. Vargas has worked as a home-based behavioral therapist, overseen home-based programs, designed training protocols for ABA therapists and supervisors, and consulted with families and schools. She was the second president of the Massachusetts Association for Behavior Analysis and has presented in numerous national and international Autism and ABA conferences. A licensed Psychologist and Board Certified Behavior Analyst, she is the founder and executive director of Applied Behavioral Learning Services (ABLS). Her interests include inclusion, psychometrics, social skills, and executive behavior.

Tip of the Week: The Importance of Identifying the Function of a Behavior

As a BCBA, I am often asked to address problematic behaviors. One of the most common errors I see in addressing such behaviors is that the adults working with child have not identified the function (or purpose) of the problematic behavior. Decades of research have shown that there are only four functions for any behavior: attention, escape/avoidance, access to a tangible, and automatic reinforcement (or something that just feels good internally, but cannot be observed by outsiders).

The function of the behavior is whatever happens immediately after the behavior, and increases the likelihood that the behavior will occur again in the future. Here are a few examples of the functions, based on the same behavior:

  1. The therapist tells Lisa it’s time to practice tying shoes. Lisa starts biting her own hand. The therapist look shocked and calls in Lisa’s mother, who rubs her back lightly while Lisa ties her shoes then gives her a lot of verbal praise. This is likely an example of a behavior that functions for attention, because the mother comes in and provides both verbal and physical attention while she ties her shoes. Or it could be an example of a behavior that functions for escape or avoidance, since Lisa did not have to tie her shoes immediately once she began biting her hand.
  2. The therapist tells Lisa it’s time to practice tying shoes. Lisa starts biting her own hand. The therapist gently pushes Lisa’s hand down and then introduces a new task. This is an example of a behavior that functions as escape because Lisa does not have to tie her shoes once she begins biting her hand.
  3. The therapist tells Lisa it’s time to practice tying shoes. Lisa starts biting her own hand. The therapist says, “Oh, don’t stress, we’ll take a sensory break,” and gives Lisa a ball to squeeze. This is an example of a behavior maintained by tangible reinforcement. When Lisa began biting her hand she was immediately given access to a preferred item.

You’ll notice that I left out the automatic reinforcement. This is intentional because often, with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, people assume that a behavior is automatically reinforced instead of exploring these three potential functions described above. One way to recognize if a behavior is automatically reinforced is to note if the behavior happens when the child is alone and/or when no demands have been placed on the child. If it’s only happening around other people or when demands are placed, then it is highly unlikely that the behavior is automatically reinforced. For now, we’ll save automatic reinforcement for another blog post.

Identifying which of these functions is maintaining a problem behavior is essential to putting in an effective intervention. But how do you go about doing this?

The first thing you should do is assess! You can do an informal assessment, such as using the Functional Assessment Screening Tool (FAST) which is comprised of 16 questions that can help you quickly determine the function. If this does not provide conclusive results, you can have a BCBA do a formal functional assessment. Once you have identified the function of the behavior, you can change the environment so that not only does the child no longer receive that reinforcement for a problematic behavior, but there are appropriate replacement behaviors they can engage in to access that reinforcement. For more on that, you can look back at the Importance of Replacement Behaviors.

It may be difficult at first to think in terms of “function of behavior,” rather than assigning a reason for the behavior that is based on the child’s diagnosis or based on something happening internally inside the child’s brain that we can’t see (such as, “she’s just frustrated so she’s biting her hand,” or “she doesn’t know how to control herself”). However, once you try it out and experience some success with addressing the true function of behavior, you’ll likely see the beauty of a simple explanation for why we behave.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

Pick of the Week: NEW! Save 20% on the AFLS Vocational and Independent Living Skills Protocols

Fresh off the press, the final protocols in the Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS) series are now available: Vocational Skills and Independent Living Skills. Now through June 16th, receive 20% off any quantity of these new Protocols. No promo code necessary.

The Vocational Skills Assessment Protocol provides caregivers and professionals with information to teach essential skills to learners who are preparing to enter the workforce or those who are already working but want to further develop skills for a wide variety of settings. This assessment covers skills related to obtaining employment, searching for job openings, creating resumes, completing applications, and preparing for interviews. This protocol also includes a wide range of basic work-related skills such as job safety, payroll, financial issues, and interacting with supervisors and co-workers. It also includes a review of skills required in specific types of jobs in a variety of settings. With this assessment, practitioners can help evaluate vocational skills for individuals with various types and levels of disability. Click here for a quick preview!

The Independent Living Skills Protocol provides caregivers and professionals with information to teach essential skills to learners who are being prepared for independent living. The assessment covers critical skills critical such as organizing possessions, cleaning and cooking, as well as money management skills related to financial planning, banking, paying bills, using debit and credit cards, and shopping. This protocol also incorporates skills about the assertion of personal rights, awareness of the motivation of others, and managing relationships with others in various settings. Click here for a preview!

This week only, take 20% off either or both the Vocational Skills and Independent Living Skills Assessment Protocols. No promo code necessary.

*Offer is valid until 11:59pm EST on June 16th, 2015.

Pick of the Week: Assessing Language and Learning with Pictures (ALL PICS)

Assessing Language and Learning with Pictures (ALL PICS) is an assessment tool designed to be used in conjunction Dr. Mark Sundberg’s Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP). ALL PICS was designed by behavior analysts who specialize in the application of Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior and have extensive experience in assessing verbal behavior with assessments such as the VB-MAPP.

This week only, take 15%* off ($90 savings!) your order of the ALL PICS assessment program by using our special promo code ALLPICS at check-out!

ALL PICS was designed to make administration of the VB-MAPP more accurate, efficient, and cost-effective for schools, clinics, agencies, and private practitioners. ALL PICS contains all of the 2-D pictures necessary to administer the VB-MAPP Milestones.

ALL PICS consists of 3 spiral bound books, with pre-arranged fields of high-resolution images that correspond with the VB-MAPP specifications. While conducting a verbal behavior assessment, the evaluator using ALL PICS can quickly record responses on the corresponding downloadable data sheets and then turn from one page of the book to the next. For visual tasks, a corresponding box of labeled flashcards is included, permitting the tester to quickly obtain all cards needed for each milestone without the need to search for cards.

The unique benefits of using ALL PICS during verbal behavior assessment include:

  • Includes 275 labeled, high-resolution flashcards for visual performance assessment that correspond to each page of the visual performance book, saving time and increasing efficiency
  • Corresponding, free data sheets that can be downloaded for each learner
  • The opportunity to test generalization with novel pictures, as opposed to familiar flashcards that the learner has seen many times
  • Team members with limited training in behavior analysis can play an active role in the assessment process, reading from the scripts on the data sheets
  • Comprehensive image list of over 1,200 common items that can be used to assess the number of tacts or listener responses in a learner’s repertoire

Don’t forget to use our promo code ALLPICS this week only to save 15%* on your purchase of this comprehensive verbal behavior assessment tool!

*Offer is valid until 11:59pm EDT on March 17th, 2015. Not compatible with any other offers. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code at check out!

Tip of the Week: Assess! Assess! Assess!

When beginning with a new student, there are two important things you must do. First, pair with your student, as described here. The second is that you must assess!

Unfortunately, formal assessment is frequently left out, especially when teachers are working in the home with the learner. Assessment should be the cornerstone of any choices made pertaining to the skills a learner is taught.

Reasons to Assess

  • Indicates and prioritizes what should be taught to your student.
  • Helps ensure that you are teaching skills in a developmentally appropriate order.
  • Allows you to measure progress.
  • Clearly indicates to parents and other professionals the reasons why you are teaching specific skills.
  • Ensures that you are teaching your learner at the edge of his/her ability.

Suggestions for Best Practice

  • If you’re uncertain about the best assessment to use with your student, contact a supervisor or BCBA for some advice.
  • Reasess yearly and before creating IEPs to have an accurate and current representation of the learner’s skill level.
  • Compare assessment results with other providers to check for generalization across people.
  • Share assessment results with the child’s parents and suggest opportunities for supporting the child’s learning during family activities and daily living.

Pick of the Week: AFLS School Skills Assessment Protocol

We’re excited to let you know that the AFLS School Skills Assessment Protocol, the latest protocol in the Assessment of Functional Living Skills Series (AFLS), is now available. This assessment, skills tracking system, and curriculum guide assesses and develops a variety of skills, routines and social situations that are critical for success in educational settings. This week only, we are offering a 15% discount off your order of the AFLS School Skills Assessment Protocol. Apply our promo code BLOGAFLS5 to your order at checkout to redeem your savings. Note that this Protocol is only available to registered users of the AFLS Guide. Your registration number will be required upon ordering. This five-digit number begins with “FS” and can be found printed on the lower left hand corner of your AFLS Guide.

The skills included in the School Skills Protocol are essential for successful functioning in different types of classrooms, in all parts of the school campus, and with peers and various staff.

The AFLS School Skills Assessment Protocol also incorporates skills that are necessary in a wide range of classroom environments (i.e., special day classes, “pull out” classrooms, inclusion, regular education), and considers the individual’s level of development (e.g., language, behavior, and cognitive abilities). All age levels of education (i.e., elementary school, middle school, high school, college) are addressed. The School Skills Protocol includes:

  • Classroom Mechanics
  • Routines and Expectations
  • Meals at School
  • Social Skills
  • Technology
  • Common Knowledge
  • Core Academics
  • Applied Academics

This week only, save 15% on your purchase of the AFLS School Skills Assessment Protocol by entering in the promo code BLOGAFLS5 at checkout!*

*Offer is valid until October 29, 2013 at 11:59pm EST. Order must include AFLS Registration number located on the front lower left-hand corner of your AFLS Guide. Be sure to exclude spaces and/or dashes in your registration number and promo code!

Pick of the Week: The VB-MAPP Set

DRB_680_VB_Mapp_SetAssessment and data collection are critical for every student on the spectrum…and can get expensive. This week, we’re thrilled to give you a bit of a break by offering the VB-MAPP Set by Dr. Mark Sundberg as our Pick of the Week. This week only, SAVE 15% on the VB-MAPP Set, VB-MAPP Guide or VB-MAPP Protocol by entering in the promo code BLOGVBM9 at checkout.

Dr. Mark Sundberg’s Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) is an assessment with a curriculum guide and skill-tracking system that assists educators, speech pathologists, psychologists, and parents in creating individualized intervention programs for children with autism or language-based learning disabilities. Continue reading

Introducing the Eden Autism Services Assessment & Curriculum Series

It is with great excitement that we announce the publication of the Eden School’s Assessment and Curriculum Series. This set of seven assessments and curriculum guides provide an expansive range of content for grades Pre-K through 12.

This week only, you can save 15% on these new assessments and curricula by entering the Promo Code BLOGEDA at checkout.

The Autism Assessment provides educators, therapists, and parents with a tool to accurately assess a student’s current abilities and skill level. This assessment identifies the student’s strengths and weaknesses, assists with goal selection, tracks progress, and makes it easy to translate the assessment into concrete IEP goals. The Autism Curriculum is a comprehensive series of teaching programs designed to provide a valuable resource to enable professionals and parents to effectively teach students with autism. Employing a hands-on approach, the curriculum includes practical strategies for each teaching program. In addition, each skill area includes a systematic assessment and flow chart to support appropriate goal selection. Teaching programs are clearly written, with step-by-step instructions, and include target behaviors, prerequisite skills, criterion-referenced assessment, measurement, materials, procedures, and prompting techniques. Each curriculum delineates Primary, Intermediate and Secondary Skills to help structure learning for students of various ages and abilities.

These teaching programs, grounded in the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), have been field-tested with hundreds of students and adults with autism.  They address essential areas of skill such as cognitive, self-care and domestics, speech and language, vocational, physical education, recreation and leisure, employment, and residential living. This series offers specifically targeted curricula for Infants and Toddlers, a 5-part series for school-age students, and an Adult Curriculum.

Teaching programs are clearly written, with step-by-step instructions and include target behaviors, prerequisite skills, criterion, measurement, materials, procedures, and prompting techniques.  Each volume includes flow charts to assist with selection of goals. Teaching programs and data tools are presented in wire-bound format for easy use. Each volume comes with a Curriculum, Assessment and Assessment Score Sheet. Additional blank assessment score sheets are available for sale in sets of 10 for each curriculum volume: Infant/Toddler; Cognitive; PE; Self-Care/Domestics; Speech/Language; Vocational; Adult.


Infant & Toddler Assessment & Curriculum

Developed to specifically address the needs of infants and toddlers (up to age three) with autism, the Infant and Toddler Curriculum contains teaching programs for learning readiness, cognitive skills, oral motor/feeding, receptive and expressive language and communication, play and social skills, sensory-motor, self-care, and preschool readiness skills.


Eden Autism Services School Curriculum Series

This five-volume series specifically addresses the educational needs of school-age students with autism by skill area: Cognitive, Adaptive Physical Education, Self-Care and Domestics, Speech and Language, and Vocational Education. The curricula can be purchased individually or as a set of five. Each volume contains the prerequisite skills, criterion, measurement, materials, procedure, prompting techniques and teaching tips for each target behavior.


Cognitive Volume: School Curriculum & Assessment

The Cognitive volume contains teaching programs to address the educational needs of school aged students with autism in the areas of Learning Readiness (eye contact, gross motor imitation), Pre-academics (block imitation, matching objects, body part ID, etc.), Academics (counting, handwriting, sight word ID, etc.), and classroom language/social play (categorization, pretend play, etc.). There are more than 85 lessons presented with prerequisite skills, criterion, measurement, materials, procedure, prompting techniques and teaching tips.


Speech and Language Volume: School Curriculum  & Assessment

The Speech/Language volume contains teaching programs for school-aged students with autism which is divided into four domains and then ranked as primary, intermediate and secondary skills. The domains focus on oral motor/feeding, receptive language, expressive language, and pragmatics. There are more than 75 lessons presented in a highly structured, specialized format.


Self-Care and Domestics Volume: School Curriculum & Assessment

The Self-Care/Domestics volume contains teaching programs targeting daily living activities for school aged students with autism in the areas of self-care and domestic skills. There are more than 60 target behaviors covering primary skills like dressing, hand washing, and toileting to secondary skills such as bathing, shaving, menu preparation, and food shopping.


Vocational Education Volume: School Curriculum & Assessment

The Vocational volume contains teaching programs specially designed to address a variety of vocational skills for school aged students with autism. The skills taught are designed to prepare individuals with autism and developmental disabilities for adult life and the world of work. The emphasis is on using these teaching programs to foster appropriate levels of independence. There are 55 targets in this volume addressing vocational skills like sorting, labeling, packaging, inventory, stocking, and more.


Physical Education/Recreation and Leisure Volume: School Curriculum & Assessment

The PE volume contains teaching programs specifically designed to address the physical education, recreation, and leisure skills of school-aged students with autism. While many educators use task-analyzed programs to teach students with ASD, physical education, recreation and leisure skills are often not approached in the same manner. There are more than 35 target behaviors from biking, golf, doing a puzzle to bowling, board games, swimming and video games.



Eden Autism Services School Curriculum Series: 5-Volume Set

The 5-Volume Set includes each volume in the series for school-aged students: Cognitive, Speech/Language, Self-Care and Domestics, Vocational, and Physical Education/Recreation and Leisure.


Adult Services Assessment & Curriculum

The Adult Residential and Employment volumes have been combined into a single comprehensive volume for Adult Services. Developed for adolescents and adults with autism residing in community-based living arrangements, the Adult Services volume contains teaching programs for self-care, domestics, physical education, and recreation and leisure. There is a complete vocational section that focuses on teaching programs to be implemented in an adult day placement with application in employment settings.


Since 1975, families, educators, healthcare professionals and others with an interest in autism have looked to the knowledgeable, caring and committed staff at Eden for guidance.  Headquartered in Princeton, NJ,  Eden’s expertise includes early intervention services, pre-K through 21 education, adult residential and employment programs, and support and training for families and professionals.  This Assessment and Curriculum provides educators and caregivers with nearly 40 years of Eden’s teaching expertise.

*Offer expires on January 15, 2013 at 11:59 pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces after the Promo Code when you enter it at checkout.





The Importance of Assessment in Treatment Planning, by Mark Sundberg, PhD

Did you know that the Different Roads’ catalog features exclusive articles by experts, parents, and teachers working with students with autism? This article by Mark Sundberg, author of the The Verbal Behavior Milestone Assessment & Placement Program (VB-MAPP), focuses on the importance of assessment in any treatment or intervention program. We’re sure you’ll find it informative!

Introducing the Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS) from James Partington and Michael Mueller!

We’re thrilled to announce the arrival of the Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS), a brand new assessment to complement the ABLLS-R, from James Partington, PhD, BCBA and Michael Mueller, PhD, BCBA. This brand new tool assesses Basic Living, Home, and Community Participation skills in individuals with autism, across all ages. This week only, we’re offering this brand new product as our pick of the week. You can save 15% on the AFLS by entering the Promo Code BLOGAFS3 at checkout.

The Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS) is an assessment, skills tracking system, and curriculum guide for the development of essential skills for achieving independence. It can be used to demonstrate a learner’s current functional skill repertoire and provide tracking information for the progressive development of these skills throughout the lifespan.  The AFLS contains task analyses of many of the skills essential for participation in a wide range of family, community, and work environments and can be used simultaneously with the ABLLS®-R.  There are currently three Protocols , and they address these different areas: Basic Living Skills, Home Skills, and Community Participation Skills.

The complete AFLS covers more than 735 daily living skills in 24 skill areas to comprehensively assess an individual’s functional, practical, and essential skills in everyday life, in their home, school, and community. The skills addressed are all based upon overarching goals for maximizing freedom, independence, and opportunities for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  Each assessment module contains eight different skills areas that thoroughly assess functional skills across a wide range of settings throughout a learner’s lifespan.  Every module of the AFLS is designed to ensure that parents, caregivers, and professionals provide learners with the very best opportunities to learn how to do tasks for themselves in a broad array of real-world settings.

Based on the methodology of applied behavior analysis, the AFLS is a unique tool for assessing basic, home, and community participation skills of individuals with autism of all ages, including adolescents and adults. The AFLS is designed to be an easy- to- use assessment tool for parents, educators, professional staff, and other caregivers. These assessment protocols will help educators, parents and professionals develop enhanced person-centered programming and transition plans, providing critical roadmaps for parents concerned about where their children will go as they grow, and their ability to live active, meaningful lives.

The AFLS is available as a complete assessment, containing the Guide & Scoring Instructions, along with the Basic Living Skills, Home Skills, and Community Participation Skills Protocols: AFLS: Assessment of Functional Living Skills Complete Bundle.

You may also purchase the Individual Protocols along with the Guide:

AFLS Guide & Basic Living Skills Assessment Protocol 
The Basic Living Skills Module addresses self-help, self-care, self-management, hygiene, routines, and core communication skills.  These skills should be thought of as a prerequisite for any functional skills program for learners regardless of age, setting, or disability.  These essential skills, if not mastered, will have a profound impact on a learner’s ability to live independently, to be successful in school, and to take advantage of various social and recreational activities throughout the learner’s life. The Basic Living Skills Module includes:
•Basic Communication
•Health, Safety and First Aid
•Nighttime Routines

AFLS Guide & Home Skills Assessment Protocol              
If the learner is living with parents, in a supported facility, a group home, or independently, the Home Skills Assessment Protocol provides an essential review of skills required for home living. Basic and advanced skills for preparing and eating meals, cleaning, dressing, doing laundry, leisure skills, and daily activities are assessed.  The Home Skills Module includes:
•Meals at Home
•Clothing and Laundry
•Housekeeping and Chores
•Household Mechanics

AFLS Guide & Community Participation Skills Protocol      
Community participation begins most basically with learning to physically navigate safely around sidewalks, streets, and signs. A wide variety of skills are also required for one to independently shop in grocery and department stores, shop at the mall, and eat at a fast food or sit-down restaurants . In addition to the above mentioned skills, telling time and using time-related concepts, making and keeping appointments, using a phone, and other skills that help people stay connected and interact with others in the community, are also assessed in this module. The Community Participation Skills Module includes:
•Basic Mobility
•Community Knowledge
•Meals in Public
•Social Awareness and Manners

Remember, this week only, you can save 15% on the AFLS by entering the Promo Code BLOGAFS3 at checkout. Be among the first to get what is sure to become an invaluable resource today!

*Offer expires on July 3, 2012 at 11:59 pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces after the Promo Code when you enter it at checkout.