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ABA Assessment: What is It?

aba assessment

Applied behavior analysis is a well-established approach for understanding, supporting, and improving behavior in individuals, particularly those with developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). At the heart of ABA lies assessment, a crucial process that forms the foundation of personalized intervention plans. 

ABA assessments involve systematic observation and analysis of behavior patterns to identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for growth. It serves as a roadmap for ABA practitioners to tailor interventions that effectively address the unique needs of each individual.

Whether you’re a parent seeking clarity on your child’s ABA therapy journey or a practitioner looking to enhance your understanding, this blog will provide valuable insights into the assessment phase of ABA. 

ABA Assessment: A Comprehensive Overview

ABA assessment is a systematic process within applied behavior analysis (ABA) aimed at understanding behavior patterns and designing tailored interventions. It involves gathering detailed information about an individual’s behavior, environment, and other relevant factors to identify strengths, deficits, and areas for improvement. 

ABA assessment uses various techniques such as direct observation, interviews, and standardized assessments to collect data systematically. The information gathered through assessment is the foundation for developing personalized behavior support plans (BSPs) that target specific goals and objectives. 

The design of these plans helps support positive behaviors, promote positive behavior changes, enhance learning, and improve the overall quality of life for individuals with developmental challenges, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

ABA assessment is diagnostic and proactive, focusing on strategies to prevent problem behaviors and teach new skills. Through thorough assessments and analysis, ABA practitioners can effectively tailor interventions to meet the unique needs of each individual, leading to meaningful progress and outcomes.

Why ABA Assessments are Essential


Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) conduct ABA assessments to comprehensively understand an individual’s behavior, baseline skills, strengths, and areas for growth, particularly within the context of developmental disorders like autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

It serves several crucial purposes:

  • An ABA assessment provides a baseline understanding of the individual’s current abilities, behaviors, and environmental factors influencing them. This baseline data helps in setting specific and measurable goals for intervention.
  • It allows practitioners to identify patterns and triggers of challenging behaviors, enabling them to develop effective strategies for behavior management and intervention.
  • ABA assessments help identify the individual’s strengths, interests, and preferences, which the team can leverage to promote learning and skill acquisition.
  • Ongoing assessment throughout the intervention process helps monitor progress, adjust strategies as needed, and evaluate interventions’ effectiveness over time.

 What to Expect During Your Child’s ABA Assessment

assessment ABA

During an ABA assessment for your child, you can expect a thorough and individualized process tailored to their needs and developmental level. Typically, the assessments begin with gathering information from you, the parent or caregiver, about your child’s medical history, developmental milestones, and any concerns you may have. 

Direct observation of your child and their behavior in various settings, such as home, school, or therapy, is also a key component. This observation helps understand your child’s strengths, challenges, and areas for improvement.

Additionally, the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) may conduct standardized assessments and structured interviews to gather more objective data about your child’s skills and abilities. These assessments may cover communication, social interaction, academic skills, and adaptive functioning. Throughout the assessment process, the ABA practitioner (BCBA) will interact with your child in a supportive and engaging manner, focusing on building rapport and trust.

Primary Types of ABA Assessment

In applied behavior analysis (ABA), various assessments are utilized to comprehensively understand an individual’s current level of functioning and behavior, helping to determine the most effective intervention strategies. 

There are three primary categories for typical ABA assessment which are:

  • Developmental Assessment: A developmental assessment evaluates various aspects of a child’s growth and development, including motor skills, cognitive abilities, language development, and social-emotional functioning. It typically involves standardized tests, observations, and parent/caregiver interviews to gauge the child’s developmental milestones and identify any delays or areas of concern. This assessment helps detect developmental delays or disorders early, allowing for timely intervention and support to promote optimal development.
  • Functional Behavior Assessment: Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) is a systematic process for understanding the purpose or function of a person’s behavior. It involves identifying antecedents (what happens before a behavior), behavior, and consequences (what happens after a behavior) through observation, interviews, and data collection. FBAs help determine the underlying reasons for challenging behaviors and guide the development of behavior support plans to address these behaviors effectively and teach replacement behaviors.
  • Social and Emotional Assessment: A social and emotional assessment evaluates an individual’s social skills, emotional regulation, and interpersonal relationships. It includes standardized assessments, observations, and self-report measures to assess various aspects of social functioning, such as communication skills, social interaction, empathy, and emotional expression. This type of assessment provides valuable insights into an individual’s social-emotional strengths and areas of need, guiding the development of interventions to support healthy social and emotional development.

Specific Assessment Tools used by ABA Providers

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

The Verbal Behavior-Milestones Assessment Placement Program (VB-MAPP) is a widely used assessment tool in applied behavior analysis (ABA) for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities. 

Developed by Dr. Mark L. Sundberg, VB-MAPP assesses verbal and social skills across various developmental stages. It comprises five components: Milestones Assessment, Barriers Assessment, Transition Assessment, Task Analysis and Supporting Skills, and a comprehensive scoring system. 

VB-MAPP helps identify an individual’s current verbal abilities and areas for improvement and guides the development of personalized intervention plans. By focusing on language and social skills acquisition, VB-MAPP assists ABA practitioners in tailoring interventions to promote communication, social interaction, and overall development in individuals with ASD and related conditions.

Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills – Revised (ABLSS-R)

The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills – Revised (ABLLS-R) is a comprehensive assessment tool designed to evaluate the language, academic, self-help, and social skills of individuals with developmental delays or disabilities. 

Developed by Dr. James W. Partington, ABLLS-R assesses over 500 skills across 25 areas, including language, social interaction, self-care, academic, and motor skills. It provides a detailed analysis of an individual’s strengths and deficits, guiding the development of individualized education plans (IEPs) in school settings and intervention strategies across other settings. 

ABLLS-R is widely used by educators, speech-language pathologists, and behavior analysts to identify specific skill targets, track progress over time, and facilitate skill acquisition in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disorders.

Assessment of Functional Living Skills

The Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS) is a comprehensive assessment tool developed to evaluate and teach essential life skills to individuals with developmental disabilities. 

Designed by James W. Partington and Michael M. Mueller, the AFLS covers six domains: Basic Living Skills, Home Skills, Community Participation Skills, School Skills, Vocational Skills, and Independent Living Skills. It assesses over 800 specific skills across these domains, ranging from personal care and household chores to social interactions and community navigation. 

Educators, therapists, and caregivers widely used the AFLS to identify areas of need, set appropriate goals, and design individualized intervention plans to enhance independence and functional capabilities in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental challenges.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a preference assessment?

An applied behavior analysis-based (ABA) preference assessment systematically identifies preferred items, activities, or stimuli to use as positive reinforcement during intervention targeted by an ABA therapy team. Methods include free-operant, paired-choice, and multiple-stimulus assessments. In free-operant assessment, the individual freely interacts with various items, and their engagement is observed. Paired-choice assessments present the individual with pairs of items to choose from, while multiple-stimulus assessments involve presenting several items simultaneously for selection. ABA practitioners can effectively motivate learners and reinforce desired behaviors by analyzing preferences.

What is an Initial ABA Assessment?

When first diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or other developmental disability,  or after more than 6 months without ABA therapy, your funding source may require an Initial ABA Assessment to determine if ongoing ABA therapy is medically necessary. 

This initial assessment uses interview, observations, record review, and direct testing to gather information about a client, to determine if a recommendation for ongoing care will be made. 

Initial assessments provide a snapshot of a client’s current functioning and needs. The ongoing Case BCBA will meet with you if and when ongoing care is approved, together you will collaborate on a treatment path that works best for the client and family.

Who conducts an Initial ABA Assessment?

A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) will conduct your assessment. Internally, BCBAs are called Clinical Directors.

Your assessor is not necessarily going to be assigned as your ongoing Case BCBA, should ongoing therapy be recommended. To avoid delay in the client accessing needed medical care, we assign assessors based on immediate availability. If possible, your assessor will be assigned as your ongoing Case BCBA. If not, your ongoing Case BCBA will be assigned once ongoing care has been approved.

There are benefits to having a different assessor and ongoing Case BCBA- this allows for two highly-trained and experienced clinicians to review your case, and provide recommendations for care. This allows you to have a better perspective on your child’s needs, and the best way to approach those needs.

How long does an Initial ABA Assessment take

We begin and complete assessments within 30 days, contingent on your availability for assessment appointments. Most assessments are completed sooner, given availability is open and flexible. What happens during an Initial ABA Assessment

Once your assessment is authorized by your funding source, you will be assigned a BCBA assessor by the Intake Team or a senior clinical member. The assessor will reach out to you within 2 business days of assignment, to schedule assessment appointments. 

During the assessment- we ask for one initial phone call, and two in-person observations to complete an assessment. Also, you will receive online survey requests to report information that will be used to make recommendations. Expect at least one, but usually two different online survey/questionnaire requests. 

Please complete online surveys as quickly as possible, so there are no delays in getting treatment started. If you need help with the assigned survey(s), please contact your assessor.

Who is Present During Assessment Appointments

Most often, parents or guardians attend initial phone meetings, final phone reviews, and complete requested surveys online. However, the client themselves is involved in the process if they are able (e.g. age, functioning level, desire to participate).This is determined by the assessor.

A parent/guardian and the client must be present for all observations. If possible, we request that observations occur across two different environments, the home and a school or other social/community setting. This allows the assessor the best opportunity to learn about the client’s current level of functioning.

What Happens During Assessment Appointments

  1. Initial Call: This is an introductory call with your assessor. During this time, they will describe the assessment process, answer any questions, review your main concerns, request needed records, and schedule remaining assessment appointments. One or both parents/guardians and the client (if appropriate) can join this call.
  2. Direct Observations: During direct observations, the assessor will observe the client in their natural environment, will spend time taking narrative notes, and if appropriate, may directly test the client (e.g. provide them with an activity and an instruction, then observe). Moreover, the assessor may interview you or the client in depth, review online survey responses, and follow up on any records that were reviewed.
  3. Final Phone Review: The assessor will provide a brief overview of the findings of the assessment, and answer general questions. You will be provided a final assessment report prior to this call. If and when ongoing treatment begins, your permanent Case BCBA will review the report with you in depth, make needed/requested changes, and determine treatment direction. 

Treatment Recommendations:

Your assessor uses assessment results and an evidence-based tool to make treatment intensity recommendations (i.e. number of therapy hours needed, by service level). Recommendations are made across a few different levels or service lines:

  • Direct Care- Weekly therapy hours needed to make the most progress, the quickest. This level of care is provided by a technician, who is directly supervised by the BCBA and BCaBA
  • Parent/Family Education- Monthly therapy hours used to hold parent/family meetings to discuss treatment progress, review data, and provide training to support interventions used during direct care appointments
  • Supervision/Overlaps- Monthly supervision hours used by the BCBA and BCaBA to observe direct care sessions, train technicians, and provide technicians with needed support and direction (used during in-home therapy sessions with the client and technician)
  • Ongoing Assessment/Indirect- Monthly hours used by the BCBA and BCaBA in the office, indirectly (without client or family present). This time is used to collaborate with other service providers on your team, analyze data, meet with team members, make treatment planning decisions/changes, and other indirect tasks to support direct care (e.g. lesson plan development, new assessment set up, making visuals and schedules for sessions)

What Happens Once an Assessment is Completed?

Once the assessor submits your final report to our internal team, the assessment report will be submitted to your funding source within 2 business days. Your insurance case manager will review findings and our recommendations, and if recommended, will provide an ongoing treatment authorization. This process typically takes up to 10 business days, depending on your funding source. 

What Happens Once Ongoing Care is Approved?

Within 2 business days of approved authorization receipt, your case will be assigned an ongoing Case BCBA and sometimes a Case BCaBA (Associate Behaviorist) who will work under the Case BCBA to support your case. This assignment is communicated to you via email, by a senior clinical member, or a member of our Intake Team. The assigned BCBA and BCaBA will be ccd on this email, and will reach out to you within 2 business days to schedule an initial treatment review meeting.

Once the case is assigned, our Intake Team will contact you via email to obtain your updated availability for ongoing therapy. Using this availability, and feedback from your case supervisors (BCBA and BCaBA), they will assign technicians to work with your child and fulfill the weekly authorized hours.

The more open your availability, the more likely the Intake Team will assign the most appropriate team members, and to the fullest extent of your authorization. We will do our best to maximize your availability, but cannot guarantee that our staff availability will match yours. At times, the Intake Team will contact you about any availability change requests, to maximize your therapy schedule.

Understanding the Importance of Maximizing Recommended Treatment Hours

Decades of research shows that treatment intensity (number of weekly therapy hours with a technician) paired with early intervention make a huge impact on the progress that a client makes in ABA therapy. Like learning a language is easier and more effective when you’re younger, acquiring specific foundational skills critical to skill development is easier and more effective in one’s earlier years. 

To the extent possible, especially with our youngest clients, we recommend that we begin with a more heavy weekly schedule, slowly fading therapy hours as progress is made. 

Research shows that if a child needs a robust program of 20+ hours, but only gets 10 hours, for example, progress is halted and some doors to learning may be forever closed. ABA therapy is a time and energy consuming process for all, but the rewards are huge! Let us know how we can best support you in maximizing your child’s access to therapy.

More Resources:

Sigmund Eldevikabc, Richard P. Hastingsa, J. Carl Hughesa, Erik Jahrd, Svein Eikesethb & Scott Crosse (2009). “Meta-Analysis of Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention for Children With Autism.” Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 38, no. 3.

Rebecca MacDonald, Diana Parry-Cruwys,  Sally Dupere,  William Ahearn (December 2014). “Assessing progress and outcome of early intensive behavioral intervention for toddlers with autism.” Research in Developmental Disabilities, 35, no. 12.

Note: Please see your ABA Consent Packet for more information, or contact your assessor or Case BCBA with questions

The Best ABA Evaluation Team

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) assessments are crucial tools for understanding behavior patterns, identifying strengths and areas of need, and tailoring intervention plans for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and related developmental disorders. Whether you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area of CA, or Spokane, WA, Circle ABA offers comprehensive assessment services to support individuals with ASD on their journey toward growth and independence.

Our team of experienced professionals is dedicated to providing personalized and effective ABA therapy to meet the unique needs of each individual.

Contact Circle ABA today to schedule an assessment and take the first step toward unlocking your child’s fullest potential.

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