The Early Start Denver Model

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The Early Start Denver Model

Since its inclusion in the DSM-III in 1980, Autism Spectrum Disorder has had an ever-growing number of different therapies attached to it. While parents of children who have Autism are willing to try all treatments that may assist in their child’s development, it can be exhausting to sift through the many options to determine which is the right one for your child to try.

At Blossom Behavioral Wellness, we know that evidence-based therapies are the ones that matter. Just as parents wish the best for their children and it thrills them to see them make progress behaviorally, emotionally, and socially, we at Blossom also celebrate every victory that our clients experience, both great and small. That’s where our specific therapy approaches, all backed by evidence of success, come in to play.

We are here to explain the Blossom Method, the three therapies our clinicians practice to maximize results for all children. They are:

  1. Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)
  2. Pivotal Response Training (PRT)
  3. Direction Instruction (DI)

Each of the above methods has many facets to it, so throughout this blog post, we’re going to dive deeper into the Early Start Denver Model. Our early intervention program uses foundational elements of the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) for infants to 4 years old with developmental delays.

Early Start Denver Model

The Early Start Denver Model, sometimes referred to as ESDM, is a proven-effective therapy option available for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Designed specifically for children ages 12-48 months, ESDM creates positive, fun relationships between children and their therapists and boosts language, social, and cognitive skills.

Parents are directly involved with their children’s therapy during ESDM, which contains three main elements:

  • Play
  • Natural Routines
  • Individualized Activities

Not only do the above steps in the Early Start Denver Model help create and foster relationships between therapist, parent, and child, they also help your child improve their communication and cognitive skills.

The Benefits of Early Intervention

As the name Early Start Denver Model implies, therapists implement the program early in a child’s life. While children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can receive therapy and show improvement at any age, there are widely recognized benefits of early intervention for children with Autism. The goal of many early interventions is to use the high level of brain plasticity during infancy and toddlerhood to mitigate symptoms through changing brain development.

If you don’t yet know what early intervention consists of, look no further! Early intervention is a combination of services that infants, young children, and their family members can benefit from. Services such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Speech and Language Therapy, and Occupational therapy are often included in a child’s early intervention plan to mitigate developmental delays.

Early intervention programs begin with an assessment of your child by professionals in the field. The assessment takes into account where your child is developmentally and, following the evaluation, your child’s care team will create an individualized plan for your child to help them reach cognitive, emotional, and behavioral milestones akin to those that their peers are meeting.

Therapies such as ABA are dynamic, with the interventions included in your child’s care plan changing as your child reaches the goals set by their ABA therapist. When early intervention services are introduced into a child’s life before the age of four, the rate of positive change for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder is much higher. These positive behavioral, emotional, and cognitive changes are more established and long-lasting.

Play within the Early Start Denver Model

One of the main elements of the Early Start Denver Model is incorporating play into your child’s ABA therapy plan. Whether your child is at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center or in the comfort of your home, the importance of play in your child’s development cannot be understated.

Just as individualized therapy differs from child to child, play can look different depending upon the child who is receiving therapy. Some children will benefit from more structured play during their therapy sessions, while others may play better with fewer restrictions in place. The Early Start Denver Model can accommodate differences in play to ensure that it suits the child receiving therapy!

No matter the type of play that your child’s therapist incorporates, the therapist will intentionally focus on building motivation for learning, engagement with others and increasing your child’s cognitive development. Play should work to increase communication, imitation, sharing, and attention. The trained therapists have techniques they are using during play to foster the type of growth mentioned above. They are constantly working to create ample amounts of learning opportunities. On the child’s side of things, it just feels like play.

For example, therapy using elements of Early Start Denver Model may look something like this: a trained therapist is working with a child who struggles to vocalize during play, the therapist may create a play routine, by singing a song while moving the child’s favorite toy through the air and then pausing to encourage the child to vocalize, rewarding attempts to vocalize with social praise and attention.

Natural Routines in ESDM

The Early Start Denver Model works in any environment where the child receiving the ESDM treatment has natural routines to follow. In particular, parents need to continue to practice ESDM interventions with their children during routines taking place in the home, to ensure that what the children learn during ESDM carries over into daily life.

Early Start Denver Model therapies are structured to take into account the child’s natural development. As such, communication, social skills, fine and gross motor skills, and personal independence factor into naturally-occurring activities, such as snack time or when getting ready for the day. The organic nature of ESDM therapy does not typically interrupt a child’s day-to-day life and allows parents to recognize and take advantage of a child’s current strengths to offset areas of weakness.

At its core, the Early Start Denver Model helps parents learn how to talk and interact with their children during daily routines in a way that encourages their long-term cognitive and social development.

Individualized Activities During ESDM

Just as it is essential to facilitate ESDM during typical tasks and daily routines, it is also crucial to recognize how to individualize activities to take a specific child’s strengths and areas of growth into account.

Each child with Autism Spectrum Disorder has differing characteristics, requires different skill-building practice, and has unique parent interaction and cultural variables. As such, it is impossible to provide the same services to all children and expect the same results.

Clinically, studies of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder who have participated in individualized ESDM therapy display fewer and less severe repetitive behaviors, one of the core symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Repetitive behaviors are generally the first symptom to emerge in babies and toddlers with autism. These children have also shown more social and cognitive growth than their peers who did not receive ESDM.

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