ABBLS: The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills

Measuring the Skills of Children Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders

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The ABBLS is an observational assessment tool that measures the language and functional skills of children with pervasive developmental delays, most often specifically those children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders. It assesses 544 skills from 25 skill areas which include language, social interaction, self-help, academic and motor skills that typical children acquire before kindergarten.

The ABBLS is designed so it can be administered as an observational inventory, or by introducing the tasks as individually introduced tasks to be observed and recorded. Western Psychological Services, the publisher of the ABBLS, also sells kits with all the manipulate objects needed to present and observe the tasks in the inventory. Most of the skills can be measured with items that are at hand or can be easily acquired. 

Success is measured in the ABBLS by long-term assessment of skill acquisition. If a child is moving up the scale, gaining ever more complex and age appropriate skills, the child is being successful, and the program is appropriate. If a student is ascending "the skill ladder," it is pretty likely that the program is working. If a student stalls, it may be time to reassess and decide what part of the program needs more attention. The ABBLS is not designed specifically for placement or to assess whether a student needs an IEP or not. 

The ABBLS for Designing Curriculum and Teaching Programs

Because the ABBLS presents the developmental tasks in the order they would naturally be acquired as skills, the ABBLS can also provide a framework for functional and language skill development curriculum. Although the ABBLS was not strictly created as such, it still provides a logical and progressive set of skills that support children with developmental disabilities and put them on the path to higher language and functional living skills.  Although the ABBLS itself is not described as a curriculum, by virtually creating a task analysis (presenting ascending skills to mastery) they can make it possible to scaffold the skills you are teaching as well as skip writing a task analysis!  

Once an ABBLS is created by the teacher or psychologist it should travel with the child and should be reviewed an updated by the teacher and psychologist with the input of the parents.  It should be critical for the teachers to ask for a parental report, for a skill that has not be ​generalized to the home is perhaps not really a skill that has been acquired. ​


The  Sunshine school, a special school for children with Autism, assess all incoming students with the ABBLS. It has become a standard assessment used for placement (putting children with similar skills together,) to decide what are appropriate services, and to structure their educational program. It is reviewed at a bi-annual IEP meeting in order to review and fine-tune the students' educational program. 

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Webster, Jerry. "ABBLS: The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Webster, Jerry. (2021, February 16). ABBLS: The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills. Retrieved from Webster, Jerry. "ABBLS: The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 8, 2021).