RBT Exam Study Guide Unit B: Assessment

This page of our free RBT Exam Study Guide covers assessment. This is based on Section B of the RBT Task List, which includes the following tasks related to assessments:

  • Conduct preference assessments
  • Assist with individualized assessment procedures (e.g., curriculum-based, developmental, social skills)
  • Assist with functional assessment procedures

Significance of assessments in ABA: We use a variety of assessments in ABA to provide us with information that helps BCBAs create individualized programs and behavior intervention plans (BIPs). Individualized care is a big part of ABA therapy, as every learner is unique. RBTs play an important role in supporting behavior analysts with the implementation and data collection of assessments.

RBT Task B-1: Conduct preference assessments

Preference assessments are one type of assessment used in ABA. RBTs are often responsible for running these assessments or supporting the BCBA in conducting them.

A preference assessment is used to identify the items and activities that a learner enjoys. These assessments do NOT tell you what is reinforcing to the learner. A reinforcer assessment could do that, but RBTs aren’t responsible for conducting those. Items and activities a person enjoys will not always equate to reinforcing (In order to be reinforcing, it must be effective at increasing a specific behavior). Finding a learner’s preferences can, however, lead you to identify things that are reinforcing to them.

Another purpose of conducting preference assessments is to identify your client’s preferences to better enrich the therapy session with activities that they find enjoyable. Preference assessments can be conducted formally or informally on an ongoing basis. Preferences can change, so what one was interested in last week may no longer be what interests them this week.

There are several preference assessments, but a few of the most common ones that RBTs may be responsible for conducting are:

  1. Indirect assessments: Through open-ended interviews or questionnaires with the client or a caregiver, you can ask questions about their interests.

    Examples: Asking the client if they like to play with Play-Doh or color; Asking the parents to list 5-10 of their child’s favorite toys and activities.
  2. Free operant preference assessment: Allow your learner free access to items in the environment while you observe and take data on what they independently choose to engage with.

    Example: Your client attends therapy in a clinic setting. To run a free operant preference assessment, you allow free access to all items in a playroom while you sit to the side and observe what they do during this free time. You observe for 20 minutes (Important note: This is for example purposes only; There is no requirement for how long to observe during this assessment). Your data may look like this:

    8:00–8:02: Walks around, flaps arms
    8:02–8:07: Puts together a puppy puzzle independently
    8:07–8:12: Walks around, flaps arms
    8:12–8:20: Plays with sensory water table

    The remaining assessments are referred to as Trial-Based Methods:
  3. Single stimulus preference assessment: Provide your learner with one item and monitor their response to it, taking data on whether they accept the item or push it away, how long they engage with it, etc. After they’re done engaging with this item, you give the client another item.

    The single stimulus preference assessment is suitable for learners who struggle with choosing between stimuli. 

    Example: You present your learner with a squishy ball. They push it away, so you record this and remove the ball. Next, you present them with a toy car. They grab it and go “vroom vroom,” driving it on the floor and playing with it for 4 minutes. You record the data, then move on to another item. When finished, you create a hierarchy of preferences based on the items the learner engaged with the longest and showed the most interest in.
  4. Paired stimulus/Paired choice preference assessment: Provide your learner with two items and allow them to choose between the two. Record data on which item they chose. After they engage with the selected item for a short time, remove it and provide another two options. Each item is paired with every other item. In the end, you create a hierarchy of preferences with the items the learner chose the most at the top and the things selected the least at the bottom.

    The paired stimulus preference assessment is good for learners who can choose between two items but struggle with scanning an array.

    Example: You are conducting a paired stimulus preference assessment with four snacks: goldfish, popcorn, cheetos, and pretzels (It should be noted that the ABA field is pushing away from edible reinforcement in many cases, so edibles are usually a last resort).

    You conduct trials pairing each snack with the other to create a hierarchy of the ones chosen the most to those chosen the least.

    The hierarchy might look like this: Most preferred to least preferred: goldfish (chosen 3x), pretzels (chosen 2x), cheetos (chosen 1x), popcorn (chosen 0x).
  5. Multiple stimulus with replacement preference assessment (MSW): Provide the learner with an array of various items, allowing them to choose one. After they engage with the item for a short time, you replace the array with new items. The item they selected gets put back in another spot in the array. This process is repeated, typically until each item is presented in the array two times. Next, a hierarchy of chosen items is developed, similar to the other trial-based methods.
  6. Multiple stimulus without replacement (MSWO): Provide the learner with an array of multiple items, instructing them to choose one. After they engage with the chosen item for a short time, you remove the item, rearrange the order of the array, and instruct them to select another item. In this assessment, since you do not replace the chosen item, you’ll end up with no remaining items at the end of the assessment. The most to least preferred hierarchy will be determined based on which items the learner selected first, second, and so on.

    Tip: For trial-based preference assessments, if the learner tries to grab more than one item, simply block and say a variation of “Let’s choose one.”

RBT Task B-2: Assist with individualized assessment procedures (e.g., curriculum-based, developmental, social skills)

Several different types of individualized assessments can be used in ABA. Skill-based assessments are used to determine the skills and strengths a learner currently has and pinpoint areas of deficit that therapy goals can address. These assessments are not used to diagnose disorders but rather to gain a picture of the individual’s skills in certain domains. Some of these assessments are curriculum-based, meaning that, in addition to providing a baseline of whether or not they can demonstrate the skills, they also provide guidance for teaching the skill.

An RBT’s role with skill-based assessments involves helping the BCBA conduct the assessment by probing skills as trained and directed and taking data on whether the individual can demonstrate the skill. When assessing skills, you simply present the target as outlined and record whether or not the learner demonstrates the skill on the first try. When probing skills, you don’t prompt the response (UNLESS the assessment states a prompt can be used for that skill), and you always record data based on the first response. You also don’t need to correct the learner if they make an error. 

Some of the skill assessments you may encounter include:

  • Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP): A criterion-referenced assessment of the many skills that encompass verbal behavior. The VB-MAPP assesses manding, tacting, intraverbal skills, barriers to learning, and more. It is one of the most commonly used assessments for children under six in ABA.
  • Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills-Revised (ABLLS-R): A comprehensive assessment targeting a wide range of skills, including verbal behavior, learner readiness, pre-academics, social interactions, and more. It is most often used for children under six but can be used up to age 12.
  • Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS): An assessment of a wide range of functional skills, from basic household skills to community-based and vocational skills. This assessment can be conducted with individuals of all ages.

Your BCBA should train you on the specific assessment when delegating assessment tasks to you.

RBT Task B-3: Assist with functional assessment procedures

Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs) are essential for learners who engage in behaviors that interfere with their ability to learn or interact with others or behaviors that are harmful to themselves or others. An FBA encompasses a number of tools that can be used to identify the possible function(s) of the client’s behavior. The function is important to know so that the BCBA can develop individualized strategies that will support the behavior modification (Note: Unit D covers the functions of behavior in detail).

The types of assessment tools that can be used in an FBA include:

  1. Indirect assessments: Tools used to gather information about an individual’s behavior without observing the behavior directly. Indirect assessments include questionnaires, interviews, and checklists. Indirect assessments are typically conducted with parents, teachers, caregivers, or other people who regularly observe the individual engaging in the behavior.
  2. Descriptive/direct assessments: Obtaining information about an individual’s behavior through direct observation and recording data on the behaviors.

    A-B-C data is the most common type of descriptive assessment. It is also the type of behavior assessment that RBTs are most often responsible for. A-B-C data consists of recording the antecedent, behavior, and consequence of a specific instance of a target behavior. Let’s break those terms down further.

    The antecedent is what happens right before a target behavior occurs. For example, you give your client an instruction. It’s important to keep in mind that an antecedent is not what “caused” the behavior. It is simply what came before the behavior. It could be as simple as “the client was engaged in a preferred activity.”

    The behavior is what exactly happened. You’ll record what the behavior looked like: throwing toys, hitting the RBT, biting self, screaming, etc.

    The consequence is what happens right after the behavior occurs. For example: “RBT redirected the client to a new activity.” A common misconception about the term consequence is that it indicates a negative experience similar to “discipline” or “punishment.” However, in ABA, a consequence is simply what happens after a behavior.
  3. Functional Analysis (FA): A procedure behavior analysts use to determine the function of a client’s behavior by experimentally arranging and manipulating variables. A key difference between a functional analysis and the other assessments is that a functional analysis demonstrates experimental control, allowing the analyst to determine the behavior’s function with a high degree of certainty. Indirect and descriptive assessments provide correlational information but cannot demonstrate causation.

    A BCBA conducts an FA. However, the BCBA may have an RBT support the process by recording data on the occurrence of behaviors during the assessment.

RBT Assessment Review Quiz

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