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Early Start Denver Model

ESDM therapy follows a play-based approach to support skills development for children with autism or similar developmental needs.

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The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is one of the most effective early intervention therapies for children on the autism spectrum and with developmental delays.

ESDM therapy is a fun and flexible evidence-based intervention. It follows a play-based approach to improve language, social and cognitive skills. Fun activities are created to address a child’s goals and teaching needs. It is designed for toddlers and preschoolers but can help children from 12 months to 6 years of age.

It works on all developmental areas of need by focusing on a child’s strengths and interests. And can be delivered almost anywhere including homes, clinics, and kindergartens and in groups or one-on-one.

To learn more about ESDM or to book an appointment contact your nearest Early Start Australia clinic.


Benefits of ESDM therapy

ESDM therapy helps children by teaching them the social skills they need for everyday life, making choices for themselves, finding their voice, and participating in activities that interest them.

ESDM can help by:

  • Encouraging interaction, communication and connection through regular play and activities your child enjoys
  • Improving language, social and cognitive skills
  • Helping your child relate and connect with others, prepare for school and participate in activities if they want to
  • Helping you feel more confident and connect with your child

How ESDM therapy works

The therapy involves working with an Early Start Denver Model team usually made up of a certified ESDM therapist, other multi-disciplinary allied health professionals and parents.

We begin with an ESDM checklist that looks at multiple developmental areas to identify emerging skills to focus on.

Then we’ll work with you to develop a set of individualised goals. As we work together towards achieving them, we carefully track progress, adjusting where appropriate to ensure success.

The checklist is repeated every 12 weeks to ensure we are always working on what is relevant and necessary for the child and what’s important to the family.

Parents, family members and other support people play a vital role in helping development and can be taught the approach to continue learning at home.

Therapy can be as simple as one hour a week or a more intensive approach of three or more sessions a week.


Find a clinic near you

We have clinics in every state and territory providing assessments, early childhood intervention therapies, and support to help you thrive.

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Early Start Denver
Model FAQs

Absolutely. ESDM is one of the highest researched and evidence-based approaches for toddlers on the autism spectrum we have. Its effectiveness has been studied in a number of randomised trials and research papers looking at different components of the ESDM, across many countries and in the various ways it’s delivered.

The ESDM approach is child-led, allowing them to make the choices. In general terms, a family might find that the ESDM approach starts with a generalised and naturalist approach that focuses on individual motivation and what the child wants to do and enjoys. If the child doesn’t make progress, more structure might be brought in, but ESDM is always about learning through play-based activities.

ABA or Applied Behavior Approach varies by practitioner and service, however ABA therapy might look at teaching skills in isolation and then look at a more generalised approach later (this is the inverse of the ESDM approach which strives to be naturalistic).

Some ABA early intervention programs may also look more adult-led or use a more structured learning approach than the ESDM, which strives to be naturalistic.

The ESDM is also multi-disciplinary and works across all areas of development. An ABA program may or may not be multi-disciplinary.

ABA is a broad umbrella, for people of all ages and across many areas. ESDM is specifically for toddlers and pre-schoolers on the autism spectrum.

Most children respond positively to the sessions and intervention program. While gains can come quickly for some, it takes time and consistency for others. Over time, if we don’t see improvements, the therapists will discuss other approaches that might better suit the child’s learning.

As always, with any intervention approach, some children do very well, and some might not have as significant gains.

There is ongoing research about what some of the indicators for this are, and for whom ESDM will be best suited.

The ESA difference

esa difference

Our dedicated teams of Occupational Therapists, Psychologists, Speech Pathologists and Physiotherapists work with our clients to help them meet their growth and development goals.

We focus on supporting clients (and their families) to develop language, motor, cognitive, social and emotional skills, and provide therapy supports for children with developmental delay or disability, including autism spectrum disorder.

Why choose Early Start Australia

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Multi-disciplinary team

Our multi-disciplinary teams work together with you to understand your needs and develop a plan using evidence-based strategies to help you achieve your goals and aspirations.

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Australian wide network of centres

We have clinics in every state and territory creating a strong community of allied health professionals with the collective knowledge and expertise to deliver you the best outcomes.

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Registered NDIS provider

We are a registered NDIS provider and are here to help you on your NDIS journey.

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Early intervention for all ages

Early intervention is not just for the kids. We offer therapies to cater for all ages, needs and abilities,
and we know the sooner you start your therapy journey the better.

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