ESDM – Early Start Denver Model

ESDM (Early Start Denver Model) is an approach of early intervention for children with autistic spectrum disorder in age range of 12 to 60 months.

This approach was developed by a team of researchers and experts from clinical practice led by psychologists Sally Rogers and Geraldine Dawson, pioneers in the field of autism therapies in the USA.

Based on years of research and work with children and their families, they developed a model that combines elements of several approaches as follows: applied behavioural analysis (ABA), pivotal response treatment (PRT) and original Denver Model, of which the former is an approach that is best known in Slovakia.

Main ESDM objectives

The main objective of ESDM is to achieve balanced development in all the domains (mainly in communication, social skills, cognitive abilities, play skills, gross and fine motor skills) and thereby reduce the symptoms of autism

The objective is to empower children with ASD to become active participants in the world around them and initiate social interaction with others by using learning strategies designed to improve their development in social emotional and cognitive domains, language development and communication.

This is my real goal. To remove the shortcomings and help children to function in everyday environment. Help them to be able to interact with their peers and do what is expected of them at a certain age“
Sally Rogers

Main ESDM principles

• Teaching strategies are applied in natural environment,
• The goals of the therapeutic plan are individualised for each child based on understanding the typical toddler learning and development,
• High parent involvement,
• Focus on building a positive relationship between the therapist and child,
• Both the child and therapist are equally active participants in common activities,
• The child´s interests are respected and followed,
• Language and communication develop as part of positive and loving relationships.

What does an ESDM therapy session look like?

The first step before starting the therapy is to assess the level of child’s development. We use a questionnaire called Curriculum Checklist. It is filled in by the therapist based on the answers of parents, caregivers or other professionals who come into contact with the child. The therapist also fills in the questionnaire based on their own observation of the child. These data become the starting point to determine the skills that the child already commands and those needed to be enhanced. It is also a starting point for designing the therapy goals and suitable set of learning strategies.

The objectives of therapy are short-termed and designed to achieve the desired skill in 12 weeks. After the period of 12 weeks, the objectives are re-designed.

A period of 20 or more hours a week is recommended for the therapy to be effective, but it is not strictly given. It can take place in the ESBA centre or in home environment, while the parents can participate in the process together (side by side) with the therapeutic team that may consist of several members.

More information about ESDM:

– Autism Speaks – The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)
– UC Davis Mind Institute – What is the ESDM?
– Centrum Adesse – ESDM