A Quick Assessment for an Intermediate Learner with Autism

Autism ABA Help Mary Barbera

The term “Intermediate Learner” is very subjective and in the ABA/VB field, this usually indicates that the manding, tacting and intraverbal areas on the ABLLS or VB-MAPP are not well developed. While the intermediate learner can mand for basic items and some actions, he or she is usually weak at manding for attention and information. Basic tacts are solid and the child may have hundreds of tacts but usually has difficulty tacting features, functions, actions, prepositions and more abstract concepts. In addition, intraverbals (answering questions with no visuals) are extremely weak. Basically an intermediate learner is usually able to talk but unable to hold a conversation.

My son, Lucas, has been an intermediate learner for several years. At this point many would consider Lucas to be at the cusp of an advanced learner in some areas but most of the years since we’ve implemented ABA, my son has been at the intermediate learner level. Programming for intermediate learners, therefore, has always been an issue of great importance to me.

A few people have made comments such as “Well if Mary is a BCBA and VB works, then why isn’t her son conversational or why isn’t he recovered from autism?” I write about this in Chapter 12 of my book and I suggest that if it were just about how hard you worked to help your child, Lucas (and many other children with autism) would be long recovered. But Lucas remains moderately autistic and, while his language improves, it does so slowly but surely. I equate it to climbing a very huge mountain with a lot of stuff on our backs.

I often encounter vocal children who appear to be intermediate learners and I need to assess them very quickly without using a lot of materials and without completing a VB-MAPP or ABLLS. A few years ago I wrote down the steps I usually use to assess these intermediate learners in a few minutes with only a small amount of materials.

This mini-assessment is not all that is needed for these learners but it may help you get started in terms of knowing which children need a more thorough assessment and careful ABA/VB programming. Intermediate Learners (who do not “pass” the mini-assessment below) need a more thorough assessment such as the VB-MAPP and also need very specific programming. Ideally, these learners should also have access to on-going consultation by a BCBA familiar with intermediate learner ABA/VB programming.

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Here are areas I assess:

For language I focus on assessing mostly the tacting and intraverbal repetoires. While I’m assessing these areas as well as some basic academic skills, I’m also listening for the child to spontaneously mand for items, actions, help, attention, and information.

Personal information/Intraverbals
What’s your name, how old are you, what’s your phone # and address (assess both knowledge and articulation of these).

Tacts of functional items such as chalkboard, stapler, paper towel, toothbrush (pictures and items).

Tacting body parts/clothing (what’s this called (nose)) and actions (what am I doing (clapping))

Tacting features (use real items)….”What’s this called?”…chair. “What is this part called?”….legs/back/seat (also assess: computer…keyboard, mouse, screen, phone….cord, buttons, receiver, and car….wheels, roof, door).

Tacting prepositions….Hold a pencil over a book and ask “where’s the pencil?” Do the same procedure for in front of/behind/next to/under/in/on ….the answer needs to be “over the book”…not just “over.”

Tacting pronouns….whose shirt (while touching your own shirt….his answer should be “your shirt” or “yours” …same procedure for my (clothing or body part)….then test Who has the book (you do or I do) ….test boy/girl and he/she too if the child is successful with my/your and I do/you do.

Yes/No tacts….Is this a bed (show him a spoon)……Does this have wheels (show him a car)…Does this have wheels (show him a bed)….Is this blue (show him something that is yellow)

If the student is successful with Yes/No tacts, I then assess Yes/No intraverbals…does a cow say quack, does an airplane fly in the sky, does a boy where a dress.

Intraverbal feature/function/class and Intraverbal Webbing
Tell me a color, tell me another color, tell me something that is yellow, name two things that fly in the sky, close your eyes and tell me some things that are usually red, tell me a vehicle, tell me a hot breakfast food, tell me something with four wheels, what do you do with a sink.

Math abilities…count to 7, give me three, circle four, what is 2 + 3 (no visuals). What time is it? Check tacting money and adding amounts of money (place a quarter and dime on desk…how much money is that?)

Reading/comprehension…If child can read, have him read a few sentences or pages from a book. While he is reading, note errors and fluency. After he is finished, ask who, what, where, when, how and why questions regarding the content.

Writing….I ask the child to write his name (looking at pencil grip, spacing, size). If the child is successful I might ask him to also write some other words or draw a picture.

During the assessment, I also record the child’s ability to mand for items present and note any ability for the child to mand for help, attention or information during the assessment. If he doesn’t spontaneously mand for information then I sabotage the situation (Hide something in the room and tell him…”I have a swedish fish somewhere in this room”….see if he says “where”)…..I might also hide something in a box or bag and say “I have something in this bag for you” and see if he says “what.” During the assessment, I also look for barriers to learning including issues with instructional control and problem behaviors. I record all significant problem behaviors and note which operant or skill seemed to trigger the behaviors.

Once this mini-assessment is finished, you should know if the child or adult needs a more thorough VB assessment such as the VB-MAPP. You’ll also have an idea of some programs that might be useful.