What is the Early Start Denver Model?

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is an evidence-based intervention approach specifically developed for children with autism aged 12-48 months.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
December 13, 2023
min read

What is the Early Start Denver Model?

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is an evidence-based intervention approach designed to support young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in their development and learning. Developed by Sally Rogers, Ph.D., and Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., the ESDM combines various therapeutic techniques and principles to provide comprehensive support to children with ASD.

History and Development of ESDM

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) was developed in the 2000s as a collaborative effort between researchers and clinicians at the University of Washington and the University of California, Davis. The objective was to create an early intervention program that could be implemented in various settings, including homes, clinics, and schools.

Throughout its development, the ESDM drew upon research from multiple fields, including developmental psychology, applied behavior analysis, and early childhood education. By integrating these diverse perspectives, the ESDM offers a holistic approach that addresses the specific needs of children with ASD.

Core Principles of ESDM

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is guided by several core principles that underpin its philosophy and approach. These principles are essential in creating a supportive and effective learning environment for children with ASD:

  1. Early intervention: The ESDM emphasizes the importance of early intervention, recognizing that children with ASD benefit greatly from targeted support during their early developmental years. By intervening early, the ESDM aims to maximize positive outcomes and promote long-term progress.
  2. Naturalistic and play-based approach: The ESDM employs a naturalistic and play-based approach to intervention. This means that therapy sessions are designed to be highly engaging, child-centered, and embedded within the child's natural environment. Play-based activities are used to promote learning and skill development in a fun and motivating way.
  3. Individualized and child-directed: Recognizing the uniqueness of each child, the ESDM places a strong emphasis on individualization. Intervention strategies and goals are tailored to the specific needs and strengths of the child. The child's interests and motivations are prioritized, ensuring that therapy is meaningful and engaging.
  4. Collaboration with parents: The ESDM acknowledges the crucial role of parents in their child's development. Collaborating with parents is an integral part of the model, as they are considered co-therapists and key decision-makers in the intervention process. ESDM parent training programs are available to empower parents with the necessary skills and knowledge to support their child's progress.

By understanding the history, development, and core principles of the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), parents and professionals can gain insight into this effective intervention approach.

Understanding Autism Intervention

When it comes to autism intervention, early intervention plays a crucial role in promoting positive outcomes for individuals on the autism spectrum. One evidence-based approach that has gained recognition is the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). This section will explore the importance of early intervention and provide an overview of the ESDM.

The Importance of Early Intervention

Early intervention refers to the support and services provided to young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. Research has shown that intervening during the early developmental years can lead to significant improvements in various areas of a child's life. Early intervention focuses on targeting specific skills and behaviors that are important for overall development, such as communication, social interaction, and adaptive skills.

By providing early intervention, children with autism have a greater chance of acquiring essential skills and reaching their full potential. Early intervention programs are designed to address the unique needs of each child and provide them with the support necessary to navigate the challenges associated with ASD. It is important to recognize the signs of autism early on and seek professional guidance to ensure timely intervention.

Overview of the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is an evidence-based intervention approach specifically developed for children with autism aged 12-48 months. It is a comprehensive, play-based intervention that integrates behavioral, developmental, and relationship-based strategies. The ESDM focuses on enhancing social communication skills, cognitive abilities, and overall developmental progress.

ESDM therapy sessions typically take place in naturalistic settings, such as the child's home or a therapy center, and involve active participation from both the child and their parents or caregivers. Parents play a crucial role in the ESDM approach and are encouraged to actively engage in their child's therapy. This involvement helps to reinforce learning and generalize skills to different environments.

The ESDM curriculum consists of a range of activities and teaching techniques that are tailored to each child's individual needs. Play-based therapy is a core component of ESDM, as it promotes engagement, motivation, and learning. The ESDM curriculum focuses on various developmental areas, including communication, social skills, cognitive skills, and adaptive behaviors.

The Early Start Denver Model has gained recognition as an evidence-based practice for early autism intervention. Numerous studies have demonstrated its effectiveness in improving social communication skills, cognitive abilities, and adaptive behaviors in children with autism.

Understanding the importance of early intervention and the core principles of the Early Start Denver Model is essential for parents and caregivers considering intervention options for their child with autism. It is important to consult with professionals to determine if the ESDM approach is the right fit for your child's individual needs.

Components of the Early Start Denver Model

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is a comprehensive early intervention approach for children with autism. It consists of various components that work together to promote developmental progress and improve outcomes. These components include the Early Start Denver Model Curriculum, Key Strategies and Techniques, and Parent Involvement in ESDM.

Early Start Denver Model Curriculum

The Early Start Denver Model Curriculum is a structured framework designed to address the unique learning needs of children with autism. It covers a wide range of developmental areas, including communication, social skills, play, cognitive skills, and adaptive behavior. The curriculum utilizes play-based activities and naturalistic teaching strategies to engage children and promote their overall development.

The curriculum is individualized to meet the specific needs of each child. It focuses on building foundational skills and gradually progressing to more complex goals.

The Early Start Denver Model Curriculum provides a structured roadmap for intervention, guiding therapists and parents in implementing effective teaching strategies and activities. This curriculum is evidence-based and has shown positive results in improving outcomes for children with autism.

Key Strategies and Techniques

The Early Start Denver Model incorporates various key strategies and techniques to facilitate learning and development in children with autism. These strategies are based on principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) and emphasize the importance of early, intensive, and individualized intervention.

Some of the key strategies and techniques used in the Early Start Denver Model include:

  1. Naturalistic Teaching: This approach involves embedding teaching opportunities within a child's natural environment and activities. It focuses on following the child's lead, using their interests to engage them in learning.
  2. Responsive Interactions: The ESDM emphasizes the importance of responsive interactions between children and their caregivers or therapists. This involves actively engaging with the child and responding to their communication or behavior in a supportive and encouraging manner.
  3. Joint Attention: Joint attention refers to the ability to share attention with others. The ESDM includes strategies to promote joint attention skills, such as using visual cues, modeling, and prompting.
  4. Visual Supports: Visual supports, such as visual schedules, visual cues, and visual aids, are used to enhance communication, understanding, and organization for children with autism.
  5. Positive Reinforcement: Positive reinforcement is utilized to motivate and reward desired behaviors, encouraging children to engage in learning and skill acquisition.

Parent Involvement in ESDM

Parent involvement is a crucial component of the Early Start Denver Model. Parents are considered essential partners in their child's intervention journey. They receive training and guidance on how to implement the ESDM strategies and techniques at home, enabling them to support their child's development in everyday routines and activities.

The ESDM emphasizes the importance of providing parents with the necessary knowledge and skills to continue intervention outside of therapy sessions. Parent involvement helps promote generalization of skills, as children have opportunities to practice and apply what they have learned in different settings.

ESDM parent training programs provide parents with the tools and resources needed to effectively implement intervention strategies. By actively participating in their child's intervention, parents play a vital role in supporting their child's progress and fostering a positive learning environment.

By incorporating the Early Start Denver Model Curriculum, utilizing key strategies and techniques, and encouraging parent involvement, the Early Start Denver Model provides a comprehensive approach to autism intervention. It aims to empower children with autism and support their developmental progress, ultimately improving their quality of life.

Benefits of the Early Start Denver Model

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is an evidence-based intervention approach that has shown promising outcomes for individuals with autism. By implementing the ESDM, children can experience a range of benefits that improve their overall development and quality of life.

Improved Communication and Social Skills

One of the primary goals of the ESDM is to enhance communication and social skills in children with autism. Through a play-based and child-centered approach, the ESDM focuses on fostering social engagement and interaction. By incorporating various strategies and techniques, such as imitation, joint attention, and turn-taking, the ESDM helps children develop crucial social and communication abilities.

Studies have shown that children who receive ESDM intervention demonstrate significant improvements in their communication skills, including increased use of gestures, vocabulary development, and the ability to initiate and respond to social interactions. These enhancements in communication and social skills can greatly impact a child's ability to form meaningful relationships and engage in social settings.

Enhancing Cognitive and Adaptive Skills

The ESDM also aims to enhance cognitive and adaptive skills in children with autism. The curriculum of the ESDM includes activities and interventions that target various cognitive domains, such as attention, memory, problem-solving, and executive functioning. By providing structured and individualized learning opportunities, the ESDM helps children improve their cognitive abilities.

Additionally, the ESDM focuses on developing adaptive skills, which are essential for daily functioning and independence. Adaptive skills encompass a wide range of abilities, including self-care, socialization, and functional communication. By systematically targeting these skills within the ESDM framework, children with autism can acquire the necessary skills to navigate and participate in everyday life.

Promoting Independence and School Readiness

The ESDM places a strong emphasis on promoting independence and school readiness in children with autism. By working on essential skills, such as self-help skills, following instructions, and participating in structured learning activities, the ESDM equips children with the foundational abilities needed for success in a school environment.

Research has shown that children who receive ESDM intervention demonstrate improved school readiness skills, including better attention and task persistence, increased compliance with instructions, and enhanced academic skills. These gains in independence and school readiness can have a significant impact on a child's educational experience and pave the way for future learning and development.

The ESDM provides numerous benefits for children with autism, including improved communication and social skills, enhanced cognitive and adaptive abilities, and increased independence and school readiness. By considering the individual needs and resources available, parents and professionals can determine if the ESDM is the right intervention approach for a child.

Is the Early Start Denver Model Right for Your Child?

If you are considering intervention options for your child with autism, it's important to assess whether the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is the right approach for them. Here are some factors to consider when making this decision.

Choosing the Right Intervention Approach

When evaluating intervention approaches, it's crucial to consider the unique needs and characteristics of your child. The ESDM is a comprehensive early intervention program that focuses on the social, cognitive, and adaptive development of children with autism. It is most effective when implemented during the critical early years of a child's life.

However, every child is different, and what works well for one child may not be the best fit for another. Take into account your child's strengths, challenges, and individual learning style. Consult with professionals who specialize in autism intervention to gain insights into whether the ESDM aligns with your child's needs.

Considering Individual Needs and Resources

Another important aspect to consider is the availability of resources and support. The ESDM often involves a multidisciplinary team that includes therapists, educators, and parents. It requires consistent and structured intervention sessions, as well as ongoing training and support for parents.

Evaluate whether you have access to professionals trained in the ESDM, whether it be in your local area or through online resources. Assess your own availability and capacity to actively participate in implementing the ESDM principles and techniques. Parent involvement is an integral part of the ESDM, so considering your own commitment level is crucial.

Consulting with Professionals

Seeking guidance from professionals who have expertise in autism intervention is essential when considering the ESDM for your child. These professionals can provide a comprehensive assessment of your child's needs, strengths, and areas for growth. They can guide you in making an informed decision about whether the ESDM is the right fit for your child.

Consultation with professionals can also help you understand the implementation process of the ESDM, including the training and support available to parents. They can address any concerns or questions you may have, and provide valuable insights into how the ESDM can benefit your child's development.

By carefully considering these factors and consulting with professionals, you can determine whether the Early Start Denver Model is the right intervention approach for your child. Remember, the primary goal is to provide the most effective and tailored support for your child's unique needs and to set them on a path toward growth and development.


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

Table of Contents