What Happens During My Child’s ABA Assessment?

7/14/2020 by Megan Moore, BCBA

As a parent of a child diagnosed with autism, you have already experienced numerous appointments, assessments, intakes, and interviews. This process can be confusing, scary, and overwhelming, among many other things. Once you make it through the diagnosis and referral process and are ready to start ABA, you are faced yet again with another interview and assessment. In this post, we want to give you an idea of what happens during the assessment process, so you know what to expect and feel comfortable with the process once it gets to that point.

There are multiple types of assessments used in ABA, which include:

  • Interviews of the parents or the individual
  • Checklists
  • Standardized tests, like the Assessment of Basic Language & Learning Skills (ABLLS-R) and the Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP). These are two commonly used assessments that provide a general idea of the individual’s basic independent living and communication skills.
  • Direct observation, or observing what the individual does and taking objective notes.
  • Ecological assessment, which focuses on more in-depth information regarding the environments in which the individual lives, works, and spends most of their time.

While the assessment process differs for every individual depending on their level of functioning and behaviors of significance, it will typically include an interview with the parent and a direct assessment. During the interview, you will discuss topics of importance about your child as they pertain to therapy, and you may be asked to fill out surveys or checklists. During the direct assessment, a certified clinician will use a combination of standardized tests and naturalistic opportunities to get an idea of your child’s skills and behaviors. Below, these two steps are further outlined to give you a better idea of what you can expect.

Parent Interview

We want to get to know your child and your family! During this interview, which can last anywhere from 1-3 hours, we will talk about many topics including things your child does well, things your child needs help with, what your child likes and doesn’t like, and what you want to see for your child in the future. You may also be asked to fill out surveys or checklists about your child’s social skills, behaviors, etc. This is not just a time to sit down and list all of the things your child struggles with. While we do want to know that and will ask about those things, we want to know your child on ALL levels. That means knowing all of the things they are wonderful at doing as well! We want to know your child as an individual and look forward to nurturing all of the positive aspects of who they are while helping you and your family target the skill and behavioral aspects that are in need of change.

Skill and Behavioral Assessment

What do we actually DO with your child when we take them back for their assessment? Depending on their age and functioning level, most of it is spent playing! The clinicians running your child’s assessment will have a predetermined set of skills that they want to test, which will help them determine a starting point for therapy. Throughout the assessment, they will use contrived learning opportunities to see how your child responds while taking data on their responses, but there is no correction if they answer incorrectly. We simply want to see what they know! For children who are able to sit and work for longer periods of time, this may entail them working through a book of pictures and answering various questions with breaks to play in between, at which time the clinicians can gather useful information about their play and social skills. For children who are not able to sit and work for periods of time, the entire assessment will be run while they play. For example, the clinician may hold up a stuffed animal your child is playing with and ask what it is to see if they can label the animal. For older children and teens, the entire assessment may be talking and answering questions while contriving social situations with other peers in the clinic to see how they react.

Again, this process will look different for every individual, but the goal is always to get an idea of your child’s skills and behaviors in calm, low-stress environment. As a parent, we want you to feel comfortable and knowledgeable about what is happening in your child’s assessment, and we hope that after reading this you will feel just that!