For Parents


Developed by Dr. Jim Partington, the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills-Revised (ABLLS™-R) is a criterion-referenced assessment and tracking system based on B.F. Skinner’s functional analysis of language.

Applied Behavior Analysis
The science in which tactics derived from the principles of behavior are applied to improve socially significant behavior and experimentation is used to identify the variables responsible for the improvement in behavior. Dimensions include: applied, behavior, analytic, technological, conceptually systematic, effective, and generality.

Applied Verbal Behavior
The science derived from Applied Behavior Analysis wherein reinforcement is mediated by a listener; includes both vocal-verbal behavior (e.g., saying “Water please” to get water) and nonvocal-verbal behavior (pointing to a glass of water to get water). Encompasses the subject matter usually treated as language and topics such as thinking, grammar, composition, and understanding. As a result of his analysis of the relations among antecedent events, response instances, and mediated reinforcement, Skinner identified several basic types of verbal behavior (i.e., the verbal operants such as the mand and tact).

A motor speech disorder involving problems saying sounds, syllables, and words, not because of muscle weakness or paralysis. The brain has problems planning to move the body parts (e.g., lips, jaw, tongue) needed for speech. The child knows what he or she wants to say, but his/her brain has difficulty coordinating the muscle movements necessary to say those words.

Assistive technology
Any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customize, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.

Anyone who functions as a discriminative stimulus evoking verbal behavior. Different audiences may control different verbal behavior about the same topic due to a differential reinforcement history. Teens may describe the same event in different ways when talking to peers verses parents.

Augmentative communication
A method of communication used by individuals with severe speech and language disabilities. AC/AAC is used by individuals who are unable to use verbal speech yet are cognitively able or when speech is extremely difficult to understand. These individuals may use gestures, communication boards, pictures, symbols, drawings or a combination of all of these.

Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst, provides behavior analytic services under supervision of a BCBA.

Board Certified Behavior Analyst. BCBAs conduct descriptive and systematic behavioral assessments, including functional analyses, provide behavior analytic interpretations of the results, design and supervise interventions, develop and implement appropriate assessment and intervention methods for use in unfamiliar situations and for a range of cases, teach others to carry out ethical and effective behavior analytic interventions based on published research and designs, and deliver instruction in behavior analysis. BCBAs supervise the work of Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts and others who implement behavior analytic interventions. BCBA-D, denotes Doctoral level.

Anything a person does. (Dead Man’s Test: “If a dead man can do it, it’s not behavior,” i.e. noncompliance, doesn’t listen to instructions, doesn’t greet peers)

A teaching procedure whereby a task analysis is conducted, breaking down skills into their smallest components, and then ‘chained’ together to teach an entire skill. Total task, forward, and backward chaining are techniques frequently used in teaching a new skill.

Comorbid disorder
A disorder that coexists with another diagnosis so that both share a primary focus of clinical attention.

Dependent variable
A variable that is measured while another variable (the independent variable) is changed in a systematic way. When systematic changes in the independent variable are accompanied by changes in the dependent variable, we say that the two are functionally related-that the level or value of the dependent variable is in fact dependent on the level or value of the independent variable. In applied behavior analysis, the dependent variable usually is a specific behavior; the independent variable or treatment may affect the level of that behavior.

Developmental disability
A severe and chronic impairment that is attributable to one of the following conditions: intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism or a disabling condition closely related to intellectual disability or requiring similar treatment. To establish eligibility for services, a disability is further defined as having begun before the eighteenth birthday, as being expected to continue indefinitely and as presenting a substantial adaptive impairment

Diagnostic evaluation
The process of gathering information via interview, observation and specific testing in order to arrive at categorical conclusions.

Differential diagnosis
Based on analysis of clinical data, the determination of which of two or more disorders with similar symptoms is the disorder that is the primary focus of clinical attention.

Differential Reinforcement
The term “differential” means that we vary the level of reinforcement depending on the child’s response to a target, and utilize extinction for the behavior being replaced.

An elementary verbal operant involving a response that is evoked by a verbal discriminative stimulus that has point-to-point correspondence and formal similarity with the response. Learning to repeat the words of others is essential to acquiring the other elementary verbal
operants. Echoic behavior can become too strong as in echolalia.

Repetition of vocalizations made by another person. Delayed echolalia involves a person repeating what they may have heard in conversation, on television shows or movies, or parental reprimands.

Ecological factor
The influence of interactions among people and their environments including the social/ emotional and physical environment. Ecological factors are studied in behavior settings, such as a family and the environment within which it operates, in order to predict the effect a specific factor may have on a particular individual.

Ecological validity
Skills or abilities authenticated and evidenced in natural and informal procedures, such as a familiar setting at home or a casual conversation, that may not be similarly expressed in structured assessment measures and tests.

Errorless teaching
Using antecedent prompts to ensure accurate responses when teaching new skills.

Eye gaze
An individual’s eye contact with another individual or with an object. Eye contact is a nonverbal form of communication and means of regulating social interaction. Observance of patterns of avoidance or initiation of eye gaze is important in detecting a child’s capacity for sharing of attention and affect.

Any prompts used are systematically removed as the child becomes successful and until he/she can respond correctly without prompts. In teaching a child sign for a “ball” we may start by physically moving his hand to form the sign “ball” and then provide a partial physical prompt by just touching his wrist, elbow, model the sign, provide a vocal prompt, etc. until the child is able to successfully sign for the ball independently.

The occurrence of a behavior in the presence of a novel stimulus. A child learns to tact “cat” in a book and without specific training tacts a cat in a tree.

A non-clinical description of a person with a diagnosis of autistic disorder who has average or near-average intellectual ability. “High functioning” individuals with autism tend to achieve higher levels of adaptive and communication skills. Also termed, “high functioning autism,” or “HFA,” it is not a distinct diagnostic category.

Independent variable
The variable, usually a behavioral procedure or treatment program, the instructor systematically manipulates to determine its effects on the dependent variable.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Ensures that all children with disabilities have a free appropriate public education and related services that prepare them for employment and independent living.

An elementary verbal operant involving a response that is evoked by a verbal discriminative stimulus that does not have point-to-point correspondence with that verbal stimulus. The intraverbal is the opposite of the echoic, in that the words emitted by one speaker do not exactly match the words of another speaker. Intraverbal behavior constitutes the basis for social interaction, conversations, and much of academic and intellectual behavior l

Joint attention
The ability to share with another person the experience of an object of interest. Joint attention generally emerges between 8 and 12 months of age. A moving toy, for example, typically evokes a pointing behavior by the child, who looks alternately at the caregiver and the object.

An elementary verbal operant involving a response that is evoked by an MO and followed by specific reinforcement. Manding allows speakers to get their wants and needs reinforced by listeners. Manding plays an important role in language acquisition. However, some speakers may
mand excessively with questions and other attention seeking behaviors. Much of the negative behavior emitted by individuals with developmental disabilities often functions as a mand.

Multiple control
There are two types of multiple control. Convergent multiple control occurs when a single verbal response is a function more than one variable. That is, what is said has more that one antecedent source of control. Divergent multiple control occurs when a single antecedent variable affects the strength of many responses. A single stimulus can evoke many different behaviors.

‘Non-verba’ communication
Facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact, spatial arrangements, patterns of touch, expressive movement, cultural differences and other acts of expression involving no or minimal use of spoken language that does not function as a verbal operant. Research suggests that nonverbal communication is more important in understanding human behavior than words alone and critical to social development and comprehension.

Norm-referenced assessment
Test scores, derived during the administration of a standardized test in its developmental stage to a large sample of individuals within the same age range, which form the yardstick for comparing a given individual’s score to a group average.

The visible properties of an organism that are produced by the interaction of the genotype and the environment. In other words, the phenotypic expression of a disorder refers to the outward, behavioral expression of symptoms that may or may not share a similar etiology, course or response to treatment.

The analysis of language in terms of the situational context within which utterances are made, including the knowledge and beliefs of the speaker and the relation between speaker and listener; the ability and desire to communicate in an appropriate way for one’s age and culture.

Preverbal communication
Eye contact, gaze shifts, vocalizations and gestures that form the basis of expression prior to spoken language development.

Prosody refers to the use of vocal stress and intonation to convey a meaning.  For example, the only difference between the noun ‘object and the verb ob’ject is that of stress placement.  Intonation determines whether the sentence “Mary’s eating cake” will be perceived as a statement (pitch falls on the last word) or a question (pitch rises on the last word).

Operant Conditioning
Operant behavior is that which is selected by its consequences.

Any consequence which decreases the response it follows, either presenting an aversive event or removing a reinforcing event.

Any consequence, which increases the probability of the response it follows, either the presentation of a positive reinforcer or the removal or reduction of an aversive stimulus.

Receptive language
The act of understanding that which is said, written or signed. Behaviorally termed, “listener discriminations.”

Ritualistic behavior
Rigid routines, such as insistence on eating particular foods or driving to the store via only one specific route when many options exist, or repetitive acts, such as hand flapping or finger mannerisms (e.g., twisting, flicking movements of hands and fingers carried out near the face).

The use of a specific test or instrument to identify those children in the population most likely to be at risk for a specified clinical disorder. The application of specific screening instruments for a particular disorder may occur at a specific age for the general population or when concerns and/or results of routine developmental surveillance indicate that a child is at risk for developmental difficulties. Screening instruments are not intended to provide definitive diagnoses but rather, to suggest a need for further diagnostic evaluation and assessment for intervention planning.

Reinforcing successive approximations of a target behavior.

Social reciprocity
Mutual responsiveness in the context of interpersonal contact, such as awareness of and ability to respond appropriately to other people.

Social referencing
An aspect of early social development whereby the infant or toddler uses the nonverbal social cues (i.e., eye gaze, facial expression, tone of voice) of another to express or share excitement or pleasure, or checks to see if a behavior will be affirmed or disapproved. The child with autism rarely, if ever, gains social feedback through another’s tone of voice or facial expression.

Splinter skills
An isolated ability that often does not generalize across learning environments. These abilities are often widely discrepant from other areas of functioning.

Stimulus Control
The tendency of a behavior to occur more frequently in the presence of a particular stimulus because that behavior has been reinforced only in the presence of that stimulus (person, place, environmental event).

Stereotypic behavior
Repetitive movement of objects or repetitive and complex motor mannerisms including hand or whole body movement such as clapping, finger flapping, whole-body rocking, dipping, swaying, finger flicking, etc.)

An elementary verbal operant involving a response that is evoked by a nonverbal discriminative stimulus and followed by generalized conditioned reinforcement. Tacting allows a speaker to identify or describe the features of the physical environment. The elements that make up one’s physical environment are vast, thus much of language instruction and educational programs focus on teaching tacts.

Task analysis
The skill to be learned is broken down into small units for easy learning.

The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program is a language and social skills assessment program for children with autism or other developmental disabilities developed by Mark L. Sundberg, BCBA-D.