The Advantages of The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) Behavioral Therapy

The Early Start Denver Model is based on the methods used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy and has demonstrated remarkable results in infants and toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We are excited to provide you with an informative post regarding the data-proven benefits of using ESDM versus non ESDM behavioral therapy approaches. ESDM is one of the few approaches of early intervention used with infants and toddlers (12-48 months) that has conclusive data support.

The Necessity of Interaction

Autism often affects young children through a lack of desire for interacting with others. This difference is not a disability in itself, but considering how every interaction an infant has stimulates learning and brain function, those children not seeking out an adequate amount of social interaction do not gain valuable social and communication skills and form critical neural pathways at the same pace as those infants whom have the desire to socially interact.

Young children learn from social interactions of all kinds. If social interaction is less exciting than toys to infants with ASD, then there will be more competing environmental variables when attempting to engage (such as television or any interesting toy). Therefore, Autism could be seen as preventing the child’s desire to engage with others, which begins a domino effect of fewer opportunities to learn social cues and will affect future social interactions.

Another point to consider is that play skills are not a natural born ability. They are learned based off engagement with older siblings, parents, daycare workers etc. Pretend play provides vital building blocks for social interactions, and by utilizing the Early Start Denver Model, it provides a myriad of beneficial engagements for children with ASD.

Maximizing Opportunities to Learn

The Early Start Denver Model focuses on creating social experiences that have the child with ASD actively engaged in the family’s social activities. Tasks that could appear as normal everyday routines actually have the capability to engage the child with ASD and provide learning opportunities. These activities are as simple as grocery shopping, diaper changes, going down a slide, taking a walk, and even feeding pets. These are important activities where children can learn, and ESDM emphasizes the importance of parents coaching their children as well. 

The Data

Research by Geri Dawson in 2010 demonstrates the success of using the Early Start Denver Model in a controlled trial. There were 48 children with ASD between the ages of 18 months and 30 months. The groups were divided into those engaging in 15 hours per week of ESDM as well as additional parent coaching, and the others using community intervention that was available in the city of Seattle at the time. Both groups had similar amounts of time in therapy each week. The children also all had similarly matched IQs at the beginning of the trial, around 60, which is a typical range for children of that age with ASD.

One year later, the children receiving ESDM gained about 17 IQ points on average, compared to the children in the comparison community group that did not include ESDM, gained about 5. The children in the ESDM group increased their IQs so much (to 80) that they no longer fell under the range of intellectual disability.

However, the same is not true for Autism severity, as ADOS scores indicate how much of a gain they can make. The children with more severe autism in the ESDM group did better than the children with severe autism in the community group, but they did not have nearly as high of IQ gain as the children with milder autism to begin with. Neverthless, the ESDM treatment still showed gains with children with severe ASD.

Earlier studies along with Geri’s came to the same conclusion: children receiving a variety of interventions do not tend to make as much progress as children who receive a highly focused, and carefully manualized and organized intervention like ESDM.

Another breakthrough for ESDM was that children in the ESDM group also showed similar responses to typical developing children when it came to brain responses to faces. They proved to have faster and stronger electrical brain responses to faces (a discovery acknowledged in Time Magazine) than they did to toys.

The community group proved to still have stronger brain responses to toys than to faces of people.

The Early Start Denver Model has revolutionized ABA therapy, and we hope this informative blog post has given you a greater insight into its effectiveness. Feel free to comment with any questions, comments or additional experiences pertaining to the Early Start Denver Model!

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