BASIC language

Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills

The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS, often pronounced "ables") is an educational tool used frequently with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to measure the basic linguistic and functional skills of an individual with developmental delays or disabilities.


The ABLLS was developed based on principles from B. F. Skinner's book Verbal Behavior. Verbal behavior states that language can be treated as a behavior like any other. Therefore, this behavior can be broken down into smaller and smaller components, which can be used to track deficits and strengths in a child's language or social abilities.

The ABLLS was originally developed by Mark L. Sundberg, Ph.D., BCBA and published as the 1990 book "Teaching verbal behavior to the developmentally disabled". The book was rewritten with the help of James W. Partington, Ph.D., BCBA and published as the 1998 ABLLS. The new, ABLLS-R (revised), was updated by Dr. Partington alone. The ABLLS is published by Behavior Analysts, Inc.

The ABLLS assessment is designed to cover the typical skill-set of an early elementary student (5-7 years old).


While the ABLLS is most commonly used on children with developmental disabilities and delays (including Autism), it can be used for anyone who may be lacking in basic communication or life-skills.

It assesses the strengths and weaknesses of an individual in each of the 25 skill sets. Each skill set is broken down into multiple skills, ordered by typical development or complexity. So, a skill of F1 (Requests by indicating) is a simpler skill than F12 (Requesting Help). Usually, lower level skills are needed before proceeding to teach higher skills. However, many individuals display splinter skills that are above their practical level.

The ABLLS is conducted via observation of the child's behavior in each skill area. The instructor will provide a stimulus to the child (Verbal, hand-over-hand, non-verbal, etc), and depending on what the child does (the behavior) determines their skill-level. Some skills are difficult or time-consuming to test; instructors frequently accept anecdotal evidence from parents and other instructors as to a child's ability at a given skill level.


The ABLLS are split into 25 different functional areas, each corresponding to a letter in the alphabet. The letter 'O' is unused at this time. The sections between the ABLLS and ABLLS-R are extremely similar. It is mostly the specific skills that vary in number and scope.

The ABLLS-R Sections
Letter Title Explanation/Remarks
A Cooperation & Reinforcer Effectiveness How well a child responds to motivation and others
B Visual Performance The ability to interpret things visually, such as pictures and puzzles.
C Receptive Language The ability to understand language.
D Motor Imitation Being able to mimic the physical actions of others.
E Vocal Imitation Being able to mimic the sounds and words others make. Also called Echoic in ABA
F Requests Also called Manding in ABA
G Labelling Naming objects, or their features, functions, or classes.
H Intraverbals Responding to only the stimulus of words. Objects/motivators not present.
I Spontaneous Vocalizations Using language without being prompted.
J Syntax and Grammar How well words and sentences are put together.
K Play and Leisure Solitary and group play skills.
L Social Interaction Abilities regarding interaction with peers and adults.
M Group Instruction Ability to learn in a group setting (not just one-on-one).
N Classroom Routines Ability to follow rules and common school routines.
P Generalized Responding The ability to generalize material learned and use it in real-life or novel situations.
Q Reading Alphabet, pre-reading, and reading skills.
R Math Numbers, counting, less-more-equal, basic addition and subtraction.
S Writing Coloring, drawing, copying, and writing skills.
T Spelling
U Dressing Ability to dress or undress self independently.
V Eating Basic self-help skills regarding eating and preparing of food.
W Grooming Basic self-help skills regarding grooming and hygiene.
X Toileting Basic self-help skills regarding toileting.
Y Gross Motor Skills Large motor activities such as: Playing ball, swinging, crawling, running, skipping, etc.
Z Fine Motor Skills Fine motor activities such as: writing, pegboard, turn pages in a book, cutting, pasting, etc.

Advantages & Disadvantages

The following is a very brief list of advantages and disadvantages to using the ABLLS assessment.


  • Provides a visual representation of skills.
  • Can be conducted by most people with a minimal understanding of ABA.
  • Addresses basic language, academic, self-help, classroom, and gross and fine

motor skill sets.


  • Skill lists are not exhaustive
  • Skills are mostly in order of childhood development, but every child learns differently.
  • No age normalization is provided.
  • Not a standardized assessment (it is still subjective to the assesor's interpretation or ability to elicit behaviors).


Further reading

See also

External links

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