As a neurodevelopmental disorder, autism often includes a range of learning and communication delays that vary from person to person. While one person may be completely nonverbal, another can be high functioning with fewer delays. 

The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS) is an assessment tool that can help determine a person’s skills and abilities. This can aid in developing a structured treatment plan and can also assist in writing an Individualized Education Program (IEP) at school.

The ABLLS-R is a revised version of the ABLLS. It is useful for the initial assessment, guide for curriculum, and tracking tool for people with language and cognitive delays such as autism.

The Assessment of Basic Language & Learning Skills-Revised

The ABLLS can be used for anyone with learning or communication delays and is a common tool used for children with autism. The ABLLS was designed by Dr. James W. Parrington and Dr. Mark L. Sundberg and was revised in 2006 by Dr. Parrington. The behavioral science work that Dr. B.F. Skinner performed in the 1950s is the initial framework for this assessment.

The ABLLS-R is an assessment tool, guide for developing curriculum, and tracking system that reviews 544 specific skills in 25 areas. The revision of the ABLLS improved upon some of the original skills measured and developed a specific sequence of developmental order and section progress.

The ABLLS-R can help to measure the following:

  • Motor skills
  • Language and communication abilities
  • Social interactions
  • Self-help skills
  • Academic abilities

The assessment then helps discover potential obstacles to learning and identifies skills needed to communicate more effectively as well as improve the ability to learn necessary life skills.

How the ABLLS-R Is Used

The ABLLS-R is performed by an instructor, often with input from parents, teachers, and caregivers, by providing stimulus to the child and then measuring what they can and cannot do. Scores are recorded on a chart, often by color, and then when the assessment is reapplied, a different color is used so the assessor can determine progress.

The assessment consists of direct observation of the child and often takes multiple sessions. Depending on the child, it can take between eight and 22 hours to complete the ABLLS-R in its entirety. 

There are two books used to help an instructor score abilities and assess skills. The ABLLS-R Protocol offers the task analysis for language skills while the ABLLS-R Guide explains the scoring system and how to develop curriculum and goals accordingly.

The ABLLS-R reviews skills that neurotypical children entering kindergarten will have. It can be administered early and reissued regularly to measure progress. The ABLLS-R can be a tool to help develop a treatment program and protocol as well as an IEP for use at school. The assessment can aid in creating a language-based curriculum that is comprehensive and exclusive to the individual to promote learning and address specific issues.

Advantages & Limitations of the ABLLS-R

The ABLLS-R is most useful for young children between the ages of 2 and 6, as well as slightly older children who primarily have language and social delays. The ABLLS-R can help develop school curriculum and treatment programs that enhance language and communication skills. 

The ABLLS-R does not directly address behavioral issues that are also common with autism. Autism is a complex disorder and often includes repetitive behaviors and sensory issues not addressed as part of the ABLLS-R.

Alternatives & Additional Assessments

Additional assessments can be used to help drive curriculum and treatment programs to help people with autism learn new skills and enhance their social, language, and cognitive abilities. Examples include:

Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS)

This assessment is an extension of the ABLLS-R and can be useful for older learners, particularly those age 16 and up. It assesses functional, age-appropriate, and practical daily life skills breaking them down into the following six assessment protocols:

  • School skills
  • Independent living skills
  • Home skills
  • Basic life skills
  • Community participation skills
  • Vocational skills

The ABLSS-R lists functional skills but does not include teaching methods for these skills. The AFLS can help support people with autism through the full continuum of life helping individuals live as independently as possible.

Verbal Behavior — Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP)

The VB-MAPP is a criterion-based assessment as well as a curriculum often used in place of the ABLSS-R as it can match the developmental progression of a child. It also addresses problematic behaviors whereas the ABLSS-R does not.

It is likely most effective for young children between the ages of 2 and 6 who have language and/or social skill developmental delays. The VB-MAPP has the following five components:

  • Milestones assessment
  • Barriers assessment
  • Transition assessment
  • Task analysis and supporting skills
  • Placement and IEP goals

Promoting Emergence of Advanced Knowledge (PEAK)

An evidence-based assessment and curriculum that goes beyond the ABLSS-R and the VB-MAPP, PEAK uses Relational Frame Theory (RFT). RFT teaches someone how to learn through relations between different stimuli instead of teaching these skills directly. It is the only assessment that uses this method, and it has drawn some controversy.

PEAK is a novel approach used after a child has acquired the skills taught through the VB-MAPP or ABLSS-R. It expands beyond the scope of both of these assessments. It can be used for all ages and contains the following four modules:

  • Direct training
  • Generalization
  • Equivalence
  • Transformation

Skills are not categorized by age, and the EFL is not a developmental tool. It can help set meaningful goals, develop treatment plans, and influence IEPs. It can also be used in conjunction with the VB-MAPP or the ABLSS-R.

Assessments are useful tools to help discover where a child’s strengths and areas for improvement lie. The ABLSS-R is a useful component for aiding in the improvement of skills necessary for daily life as well as learning skills and academic abilities. It can be used on its own or in conjunction with other assessments and curriculums. A trained professional can administer the assessment(s) and help parents decide on the best course of action.


What Is Autism? Autism Speaks.

ABLLS-R Set. (2021). Parrington Behavior Analysts. 

What Is an ABLLS Assessment? Applied Behavior Analysis Programs Guide.

Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS). (2013). Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder? (March 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Functional Living Skills. (2021). Functional Living Skills.

VB-MAPP. (2021). Mark Sundberg.

Promoting the Emergence of Advanced Knowledge: A Review of PEAK Relational Training System: Direct Training Module. (August 2019). Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.

Essential for Living: Start Me Up. (2021). Essential for Living.