From theory to practice: what is the Early Start Denver Model?
As a parent or caregiver of a child on the autism spectrum, it can be an incredibly difficult and daunting task to understand the types of early intervention your child needs and how to access it. And for those just starting out on the journey, it can be downright overwhelming.
Early intervention can be crucial in helping autistic children reach their full potential, and one of these early intervention therapies is the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). Developed by experts in the field of autism research, ESDM is a comprehensive early intervention program that aims to support young children on the autism spectrum in their development and social communication skills.
So, what is the Early Start Denver Model, how does it work, and how can it benefit your child or loved one?
The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is a play-based intervention program that is designed for children aged 12 to 48 months who have been diagnosed with or indicators of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It was created by experts in autism research, Sally Rogers, PhD, and Geraldine Dawson, PhD. It’s based on the principles of learning and knowledge of child development in early autism and is all about engaging young children in fun, everyday activities that help them develop important skills like communication, social interaction, and cognition. Relationships are key in the ESDM. Relationships with parents, family, the therapist and friends.
The ultimate goal of ESDM is to give autistic kids the best possible chance to thrive, while also fostering positive relationships between them and their caregivers. It’s a really promising approach, and it could be a great option for parents and caregivers who want to give their child the best start in life.
The key components of ESDM
ESDM therapy is all about using fun and engaging activities to help kiddos develop important skills like communication, social interaction, and cognition! It takes advantage of everyday routines and activities to help children learn in a naturalistic way, and it emphasises positive affect and having a lot of fun along the way.
ESDM is all about tailoring the program to each child’s unique needs and strengths, so they get the best possible support. And with a team of skilled professionals, including speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and psychologists, working closely with parents and caregivers, the child’s progress is supported from all angles. With these key components and working across all developmental areas that need support, ESDM offers a truly holistic approach to early intervention and supports for autistic kids and their families.
Activities that may be involved in your child’s ESDM therapy include:
- Pretend play activities, such as playing with dolls, stuffed animals, or toy cars
- Building blocks and puzzles
- Singing and dancing to music
- Story time, including picture books and storytelling
- Sensory activities, such as finger painting, playdough, and water play
- Social games, such as peek-a-boo, tickling, and chasing games
- Role-playing activities, such as playing doctor or restaurant
- Snack time, which can be used to encourage communication and social interaction
- Outdoor play activities, such as playing catch or going down a slide
These activities are designed to be fun and engaging, while also promoting the development of important individualised skills like speech, communication, social interaction, and learning.
How can ESDM therapy help autistic children?
ESDM therapy is a comprehensive and individualised approach that can really help your child develop important skills and reach their full potential. Some of the benefits include:
- The play-based approach makes therapy sessions fun and engaging, helping to keep children motivated and interested in learning
- The ESDM follows and supports your child’s interests and unique attributes
- The naturalistic learning approach helps children learn important skills in the context of their everyday lives, which can promote the generalisation of skills across different settings and activities
- Individualised support and focus on unique strengths and needs can promote confidence and a sense of accomplishment in children
- The ESDM coaches parents and helps parents to be knowledgeable and confident in navigating everyday life and the future
Ultimately, ESDM therapy offers a comprehensive and effective approach to early intervention for young children on the spectrum, helping them to develop important skills and reach their full potential.
What can you and your child expect from your ESDM therapy appointments?
ESDM therapy typically involves collaborating with a team consisting of certified ESDM therapists. Certified ESDM Therapists are allied health professionals and teachers with additional training and qualification. Together, the team works to provide comprehensive support for the child’s development and progress, tailoring the therapy to the child’s unique needs and strengths, in collaboration with the family.
1. ESDM checklist
We’ll start with an ESDM checklist. This checklist is based on a set of skills that often require support in early autism, , such as speech, language, social communication, play skills, and cognitive development. The checklist can be used to track progress over time and to identify areas that may need additional support or intervention, whilst capturing and growing strengths. With the help of the ESDM checklist, parents and caregivers can gain a better understanding of their child’s strengths and challenges, as well as the progress they are making in therapy.
2. Goal setting
Goal setting is an important part of ESDM therapy, as it helps to focus the therapy on the specific needs and goals of each child. Goals are typically set collaboratively by the ESDM team, including the therapist and parents or caregivers. The goals are based on the child’s individual strengths and challenges and are designed to be achievable and measurable. By setting clear goals and tracking progress over time, ESDM therapy can help autistic children to make meaningful improvements in their social communication, play skills, and overall development.
3. Revisit the checklist
The checklist is revisited every 12 weeks, allowing the team to track your child’s progress and adjust the therapy plan as needed. By regularly circling back to this checklist, the team is able to evaluate your child’s development and identify areas that may need additional support or intervention.
4. Ongoing support
Ongoing support is a critical component of the ESDM therapy process, as it helps to ensure that your child continues to make progress and reach their developmental goals over time. Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in providing this ongoing support, as they are the ones who care for the child on a daily basis and can reinforce the skills and strategies learned in therapy.
The ESDM team may provide regular check-ins, progress updates, and additional resources to support the child’s ongoing development, as well as offer coaching and advice to parents and caregivers on how to best support their child’s learning and growth. The model is flexible based and supports may include weekly parent coaching and therapy through to more intensive therapy.
We’re here to support you
ESDM therapy is evidence-based and has proven to be effective through randomised clinical trials and numerous studies. One of the best things about ESDM therapy is that it can work in a variety of settings, from clinics to ESDM group therapy to home environments and even telehealth. This flexibility is beneficial for parents and caregivers who want to make sure their child gets the best possible care. Plus, the model has been shown to build a strong foundation that carries over into later programs focused on language and social skills.
ESDM therapy is effective because it tackles potential challenges in early development in autism and similar areas. Social interaction is key to a child’s development, and ESDM therapy does an amazing job of supporting these skills and respecting each child’s unique interactions and preferences. By doing so, autistic children are far more likely to achieve their full potential as they grow up.
If you’d like more information or to find out if ESDM therapy is suitable for your child, get in touch with our friendly team of ESDM therapists. We walk alongside you to ensure you’re supported. Give us a call today.