What is an ABLLS Assessment?

The ABLLS Assessment is an important tool in working with autistic and learning delayed individuals today. So, how does it work, and what exactly does it do? Join us as we explore the fundamentals of this useful tool.

Related resource: Top 25 Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Online

ABLLS Assessments: The Basics

ABLLS Assessments

The abbreviation ABLLS stands for Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills. This assessment process is ultimately a test designed to determine language and critical learner skills in those specifically affected by autism and other developmental disabilities. Much of this assessment battery is accredited to and designed around the behavioral science work of Dr. B.F. Skinner in the 1950s.  Expressive language skills are assessed using the verbal behavior method of behavioral analysis of language developed by Skinner.  The assessment piece of the tool identifies the skills a child needs to effectively communicate and learn.  Results help identify barriers to the acquisition of new skills.

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The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills is used to measure areas like:

  • motor skills
  • self-help skills
  • academic abilities
  • social interaction
  • language and communication skills

The assessment is designed to be administered to primarily used for young children between two and six years of age.  It is a great assessment tool to help develop Individualized Education Program goals or treatment plan for use in a school setting.

The ABLLS-S includes two booklets to help the assessor score and assess skills.  These include the ABLLS-R Protocol and the ABLLS-R Guide.  The Protocol book provides the task analysis for language skills including:

  • task name
  • task objective
  • target question
  • example responses
  • scoring criteria
  • skills tracking system

The ABLLS-R Guide provides in-depth information about the scoring system and how to develop curriculum and guides.

Some evaluators find it convenient to use an ABBLS-R assessment kit to make the process more streamlined.  An ABLLS kit includes a color-coded organization system to make locating the various tasks quick and easy, saving time.

Assessment Composition

The ABLLS consists of a battery of 25 sections, with each section being a marker of a particular skill or ability. The assessment is individually administered.  Skill areas are assessed in a specific developmental sequence.

Essentially, a doctor (or in some cases the parent or guardian) will provide some sort of stimuli or wait for natural stimuli to occur and then record the individual’s ability and choice in response to that stimuli. For example, in the “Motor Imitation” section of the ABLLS, the observer must make physical actions and movements and then record the tested individual’s ability to then imitate those actions successfully. Another example of one of areas of ABLLS testing sections is the “Labelling” section in which the observer records the individual’s ability to name, classify, and label items and groups of items.

The time it takes to complete the assessment can greatly vary based on the individual being tested.  It can take between eight and 22 hours to complete the assessment.


ABLLS Assessments

Today, while commonly referred to as ABLLS, this assessment is also correctly referred to as ABLLS R in many instances. This is because most applications of ABLLS testing today use the revised version and method which was produced in 2006. So, what changed with the revised version’s publishing?

As of the 2006 revision, the ABLLS-R assessment uses an updated battery of sections. The number of sections, however, did not change. The revision also set out a specific sequence of section progress as opposed to following any sequence the observer may have arbitrarily chosen in prior times.  The revision also incorporated items associated with social interaction skills and motor imitation.


WebABBLS is the online version of the ABLLS-R.  The online tool is available in both English and Spanish and contains over 200 video demonstrations. The online format makes it quick and easy to assess the 544 skills across the four different sections of the tool.  Practitioners can create a customized report for their learner.  They can also analyze and compare their learner’s assessment data with Dr. Partington’s Normative Data Research.

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Benefits and Limitations of Using the ABLLS-R Assessment Tool

There are many benefits to using the ABLLS tool.  It can be used as a guide to help develop curriculum and treatment programs that help children gain communication skills.  It’s best used with children two to six but could be used on children up to age 12.  It’s a very comprehensive program as far as language are concerned.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t address behavioral issues that many children with autism struggle with.  The ABLLS-R does not address repetitive behaviors or sensory issues that many children on the autism spectrum experience.

The ABLLS-R is very user friendly.  Assessments can be completed by individuals with a basic understand of applied behavior analysis.  The tool makes it easy for parents and teachers to communicate about issues related to education and language development.

Connecting to the Creators

As the ABLLS has come to really help many patients and medical experts over the years, curiosity regarding its creators has abounded. While there were a number of behavioral scientists and researchers involved in this assessment’s creation, Dr. James W. Partington and Dr. Mark L. Sundberg are the primary, accredited minds behind the system. Partington led the charge on the 2006 revision and is subsequently accredited with it as well.

For those interested in learning more about these professionals or even exploring the possibility of getting in contact with them, they each maintain an online presence to date. Dr. James W. Partington maintains a LinkedIn page with helpful links, articles, and more. Dr. Mark L. Sundberg maintains his own webpage in which he produces an array of resources and information on his work and ABLLS.

The sciences have come a long way in finding ways to work with and improve the lives of those with autism and learning disabilities of all kinds. An accurate method for assessing language and learning status in these individuals is just one example of an excellent, modern benchmark along the way here. The ABLLS Assessment is the primary tool that serves this important function today.