Mullen Scales of Early Learning

Mullen Scales of Early Learning, MSEL, Mullen Scales, Mullen Scales of Early Learning Scoring

The Mullen Scales of Early Learning (MSEL) is a developmentally integrated system that assesses 5 areas of a child’s development: Gross motor, visual reception, fine motor, expressive language, and receptive language. The MSEL can be helpful for therapists working with the early Intervention population. 

The MSEL can be administered to children from birth to 68 months-old, which is a critical period of development. Administration of the Mullen Scales of Early Learning can help therapists identify developmental delays or disorders.

Early developmental assessments such as the MSEL can lead to a child receiving helpful support and early intervention to effectively improve their skills. By providing a standardized measure of various aspects of a child’s development, the MSEL can also be used to quantify a child’s progress in therapy.

Let’s review all of the need-to-know information about the Mullen Scales of Early Learning. We’ll delve into a detailed explanation of the test’s components, procedures for administration, how to conduct and document the assessment, and more.

Mullen Scales of Early Learning components
The Mullen Scales of Early Learning includes five scales, which provide a comprehensive picture of a child’s cognitive and motor abilities.
  • Gross Motor Scale: Evaluates a child’s physical development by looking at their ability to complete activities involving large muscle groups. This includes tasks such as crawling and walking. Gross motor skills play an important part in a child’s overall development. They affect how a child is able to navigate their environment, and even how they acquire language skills.

  • Fine Motor Scale: The Fine Motor Scale assesses a child’s fine motor skills, including dexterity and  manipulation. These skills are required for activities like grasping objects, writing, and other activities of daily living such as fastening snaps or buttons. The fine motor scale examines the function of small muscle groups, such as the fingers and hands.

  • Visual Reception Scale: Measures a child’s ability to process and understand visual information (i.e., recognition of shapes, patterns and spatial relationships). The skills assessed by this scale are important for various aspects of language development, such as reading and interpretation of visual cues during communicative exchanges. This scale includes abilities such as visual memory, visual sequencing, and visual organization.

  • Receptive Language Scale: The Receptive Language Scale assesses a child’s ability to understand language. This includes tasks such as following directions and responding to questions. The results of this scale can provide speech-language pathologists with valuable insight into a child’s ability to comprehend language, an important aspect of communication.

  • Expressive Language Scale: Provides important information to SLPs is the Expressive Language Scale, which measures a child’s ability to use words and gestures to communicate with others. This includes skills such as vocabulary/naming objects, formulating sentences, and engaging in conversation.

Administering the Mullen Scales of Early Learning

Therapists should have a thorough understanding of how to conduct the Mullen Scales of Early Learning prior to administering the assessment in order to obtain accurate and reliable results. 


It’s important to prepare the assessment environment for young children prior to administration. The clinician can create a comfortable, child-friendly environment with minimal distractions. This, along with the use of age-appropriate materials and toys, can help the child feel comfortable and encourage him or her to participate during the evaluation.

The clinician will need to supply the materials listed in the assessment manual, including a crayon, Cheerios, several sheets of paper, a ball, and other toys.

The clinician should be prepared with the Item Administration book, Stimulus Book, a Record Form, and other required materials. 

Explanation to parents/caregivers

Clinicians should use clear communication to explain the assessment process to parents and caregivers. This is a critical component of the administration process. Each scale in the test consists of interactive tasks which can be completed by the client or can be scored through parent interview or assistance.

Conducting the MSEL

In order to conduct the assessment, a basal score must first be achieved to identify a starting test item. A child must achieve a score of at least 1 point on 3 consecutive items.

A score is given for each test item, which ranges from 0 to 5 points for some items. For most test items, a score of “0” is marked for a skill that the child is not demonstrating, and “1” for a correct response.

Test items are presented in a hierarchy. They become increasingly difficult and involve more developmentally advanced skills. 

The clinician will administer the test items within each scale until the child receives a score of 0 on 3 consecutive test items. This is the ceiling score, and administration of the test is stopped once it is achieved.

The assessment takes approximately 15 minutes (when the child is up to 1 year-old), 24-35 minutes for children up to 3 years old, and 40-60 minutes with a child who is between 3 to 5 years old.

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Documenting observations and results

In addition to documenting a child’s scores on the assessment as correct or incorrect, clinicians can gain valuable information by documenting their observations and details about the results.

The clinician should record a child's responses and behaviors during administration of the Mullen Scales of Early Learning. For example, when administering the Expressive Language scale, the clinician can make notes of how the child communicates thoughts, feelings, and requests.

Following administration of the assessment, the clinician will calculate the child’s scores through use of the examiner’s manual. The test yields scale scores and an Early Learning Composite.

Interpreting language development results

Speech pathologists can analyze the receptive and expressive language scales to obtain valuable information about the client’s communication skills.

Analyzing a child’s performance on the receptive language scale provides details about their strengths and areas of difficulties within this domain. For example, the results will show whether a child is able to follow directions, when presented verbally or nonverbally.

Examining the results of the expressive language scale provides a clinician with information about the age-appropriate skills that a child is or is not demonstrating. In particular, the scale can provide information about the child’s vocabulary, grammar, and ability to verbally express themselves.

Examining both of these areas assists speech therapists in identifying a receptive and/or expressive language delay or disorder. The therapist can arrive at these diagnoses by determining whether the child is not demonstrating the expected skills for their age.

Integrating Mullen Scales of Early Learning results into speech therapy

The findings that result from the Mullen Scales of Early Learning can serve as a foundation for developing an individualized speech therapy plan for a child. The speech therapist can align the results of the assessment with specific speech and language goals.

Areas of difficulty noted on the Receptive Language Scale and Expressive Language Scale, that a child is expected to demonstrate considering their age, can be used as a basis for speech therapy goals.

Therapists should also tailor a child’s therapy plan by incorporating their unique strengths, as demonstrated on the Mullen Scales of Early Learning results. These strengths can be considered when selecting specific therapy techniques and exercises. 

Designing targeted speech therapy interventions

Speech therapists should select age-appropriate therapy activities that focus on the language skills shown to be difficult for a child on the Mullen Scales of Early Learning assessment.

For example, if a child demonstrated a reduced expressive vocabulary, the speech pathologist might incorporate the strategy of presenting choices in items. While coloring, the SLP can offer choices between colors to encourage the child to say a wider variety of words.   

It’s also important to incorporate play-based techniques to enhance communication skills. Age-appropriate toys, board games, crafts, books, and interactive activities can maintain a child’s motivation and attention while in speech therapy and lead to greater progress.

Monitoring progress

The Mullen Scales of Early Learning can be regularly administered to track a child’s progress in therapy and gauge the effectiveness of the therapy plan.

Clinicians can adjust therapy strategies and goals based on the evolving needs of a child. This continuous monitoring and adaptation can ensure that therapy is targeting the child’s most current speech and language needs.

The Mullen Scales of Early Learning play a critical role in guiding speech therapists in identifying the strengths and difficulties a child has across various areas of development. This information can lead to early intervention through speech therapy, as well as the development of an individualized treatment plan.

Early intervention has shown to be instrumental in supporting a child’s lifelong communication skills. The Mullen Scales of Early Learning is a valuable assessment tool for measuring a child’s skills starting as early as birth.


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