What is Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)?

December 7, 2012

This week's "Got Questions?" answer comes from Lauren Elder, PhD, Autism Speaks assistant director of dissemination science. Dr. Elder is a certified ESDM therapist. She recently traveled to Saudi Arabia to help launch its ESDM training program. 

How can I find a qualified ESDM therapist, and how can I, as a parent, get trained?

Here at Autism Speaks, we’ve been getting many questions about the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). This early intervention program is designed for children 12 months through late preschool age and has been validated in a randomized, controlled trial.  It is play-based, relationship-focused and uses the principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, PhD, co-developed ESDM with Sally Rogers, PhD, prior to coming to Autism Speaks.

Many of our readers have expressed interest in ESDM following the October publication of a study showing that ESDM results in changes in brain activity that correlate with improvement in social skills

Here, then, are answers to the questions we’ve been receiving most frequently:

Who provides ESDM?

An ESDM therapist may be a psychologist, behaviorist, occupational therapist, speech and language pathologist, early intervention specialist or developmental pediatrician. What’s important is that they have ESDM training and certification. 

How can professionals become trained in ESDM?

Qualified professionals attend a training workshop and then submit videotapes showing them using ESDM techniques in therapy sessions. Certification requires that the therapist demonstrates the ability to implement ESDM techniques reliably and according to high standards set by leading ESDM therapists.

This ensures that a certified professional has the knowledge and skills to successfully use the teaching strategies with children with autism. 

How can parents be trained in the techniques?

Parental involvement is a crucial part of the ESDM program. If your child is receiving ESDM therapy, the instructor will explain and model the strategies for you to use at home.

In addition, Drs. Dawson and Rogers saw the need for a separate training “manual” for parents. Earlier this year, they published An Early Start for Your Child with Autism, with coauthor Laurie Vismara, PhD. The book has useful tips and hands-on strategies that integrate smoothly into daily activities and play. I think you’ll find it useful whether or not your child’s therapist is trained in ESDM techniques. You can even use it while waiting for your child to begin therapy.

Got more questions? Send them to GotQuestions@autismspeaks.org.

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