Queensland's most experienced provider of specialised education and therapy services for individuals on the autism spectrum.

Early Start Denver Model

What is the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)? 

The ESDM is an early intervention model designed to target the key features of autism of children under the age of 5 years. Autism Queensland is also the only provider in Queensland with staff qualified to deliver this evidence-based intervention. 

How does it work?

The ESDM involves intensive teaching within a play-based curriculum with relationship-focused routines and strategies (KU Children’s Services, 2011). It is supported by 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 (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 the 12 weeks.

Recent research* examining the effect of the ESDM for treatment of young children with autism on health care service use and costs has concluded that the costs associated with ESDM were fully offset within a few years after the intervention because of reductions in other service use and cost. So while ESDM may be more expensive upfront than that of other community-based interventions upfront, in the long term children who use ESDM use less therapy services resulting in substantial savings.
*Cost Offset Associated with Early Start Denver Model for Children With Autism (Cidav, Munson, Estes, Dawson, Rogers, Mandell; Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, July 2017)

Download a Research Update on the ESDM. 

The ESDM is delivered at all Autism Queensland centres, however we are currently unable to take expressions of interest for this service at our Sunnybank and Brighton locations. For our regional families, please contact your nearest centre to discuss how ESDM can assist your child. 

P. 07 4977 9600 
E. gladstone@autismqld.com.au

P. 07 4923 4800
E. rockhampton@autismqld.com.au

P. 07 4841 8300
E. mackay@autismqld.com.au

P. 07 4034 6600
E. cairns@autismqld.com.au