What is the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)?

What is the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)? 

The ESDM is an early intervention model for young children with autism. It is designed to target the key features of autism.

How does it work?

The ESDM involves intensive teaching in play-based sessions. It uses a curriculum that has strong relationship-focused routines and strategies. The ESDM uses the principles of developmental psychology and the pivotal response treatment component of Applied Behaviour Analysis.

It draws upon several different but complementary approaches, including the Denver model (Rogers et al 1986), Rogers and Pennington’s model of autism as a disorder of social motivation (1991), and Dawson and colleagues’ model of autism as a disorder of social motivation (2004). It builds upon these through the following techniques ( as summarised from Rogers and Dawson, 2010):

  • Use of Positive Affect
  • Play as the Frame for the Intervention
  • Intensive Teaching
  • Positive Behaviour Approach for Unwanted Behaviours
  • Family Involvement.

How are children assessed?

One of the most important parts of the intervention process in the ESDM is the creation of short-term (12 week) learning objectives for the child. These objectives are established through an assessment of the child’s current skill level using the ESDM Curriculum Checklist. Two to three targets in each relevant developmental domain (ie receptive communication, expressive communication, social skills, play skills, cognitive skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and adaptive behaviour skills) are then formulated and taught over 12 weeks.

For detailed about the research supporting the ESDM, this article from Autism Queensland  is excellent: https://autismqld.com.au/userfiles/files/Early%20Start%20Denver%20Model%20Research%20Paper.pdf

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