The Early Start Denver Mode – a therapy approach

What is the ESDM? How does it work?

The Early Start Denver Model, or ESDM, is a family centred, play based, multi-professional therapy program for preschool children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Social relationships are at the heart of this model – all of the child’s learning takes place in the setting of being a social person and interacting with others, learning from those around them. This is how all children learn in their preschool years. The ESDM seeks to address the social skills difficulties that children with ASD experience. It aims to provide the child with very positive social experiences that directly improve their social skills, so that they can unlock all the learning opportunities in their everyday life.

The therapy team may include any of the following professionals:

  • speech pathologist
  • occupational therapist
  • psychologist
  • early childhood teacher
  • developmental paediatrician

The family and therapists assess the child’s skills in several areas, and then together they set goals to work on for a 12 week period. Several goals are set at the same time, so that the child can develop in many areas at the same time. Developmental goals are set in the areas of:

  • receptive language (understanding what is said to them)
  • expressive language (speaking, signing or pointing to communicate)
  • social skills
  • imitation
  • cognition (thinking, reasoning and logic)
  • play
  • gross motor (coordination of whole body and limbs)
  • fine motor (coordination of small movements eg fingers)
  • personal independence
  • behaviour

Families who choose to use the ESDM to meet their child’s needs are trained by the therapists to use play-based therapy techniques. This means that any time they interact with their child they can work on the ESDM goals. The ESDM therapy intervention can be implemented in the child’s usual environments: at home, in day care / kindergarten or in a therapy clinic.

What the research says…. 

The ESDM uses many scientifically proven methods of teaching and reinforcing the desired behaviour, such as Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) and Pivotal Response Training (PVT). Research has shown the ESDM is effective in helping children with ASD to improve their cognitive and language skills. The randomised controlled trial (published in the journal “Pediatrics”) showed significant positive outcomes for children who received 20 hours a week of ESDM intervention from trained professionals, family members or therapy aides.

Why would families choose an ESDM approach for their child?

  • Research has proven it to be effective!
  • ESDM empowers families to be the centre of the intervention.
  • ESDM follows the typical patterns of normal development and works on several skills at once.
  • ESDM has a strong emphasis on play and having fun together – something all families can enjoy!
  • ESDM schedules regular reviews of progress and has steps to follow if progress has not been made.
  • ESDM seeks the knowledge of the family and specialised therapists in assessing and planning goals, but anyone can implement the intervention. It can be a flexible and adaptive approach depending on the family circumstances.

Give us a call to talk about whether this option is a suitable one for your child!

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