Early Start Denver Model Helps Children with Autism Boost Language and Social Skills

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is a early-intervention program for children with autism. According to Autism Speaks, the features of this program are:

    • Naturalistic applied behavioral analytic strategies
    • Sensitive to normal developmental sequence
    • Deep parental involvement
    • Focus on interpersonal exchange and positive affect
    • Shared engagement with joint activities
    • Language and communication taught inside a positive, affect-based relationship [1]

    ESDM can be used in children as young as 18 months old and “has been found to be effective for children with autism spectrum disorder across a wide range of learning styles and abilities. Children with more significant learning challenges were found to benefit from the program as much as children without such learning challenges.” [2]

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    ESDM Helps Regulate Brain Function


    A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry indicates that ESDM boosts language and cognitive skills, improves social socials and decreases symptoms of autism. It also helps the brain work in a more “normal” way.


    Children with autism often show more brain activity when looking at non-human or non-social stimuli. Children without autism are the opposite, they will exhibit more brain activity when looking at faces rather than toys.


    In the recent study, 48 children with autism between the ages of 18 and 30 months were given therapy. About one-half were given ESDM for 20 hours per week for at least 2 years. Parents were also taught how to provide the therapy. The other half were provided community based interventions as well as referrals, evaluations, resource manuals and other things to read.


    At the end of the study brain activity was measured through EEGs as the children looked at different types of stimuli, such as faces (social stimuli) and toys (non-social stimuli.)  Researchers found that:

    • 73 percent of the children who received ESDM had more brain activity when they saw faces than when they saw toys
    • 71 percent of non-autistic children also had more brain activity when looking at faces over toys
    • 64 percent of the children receiving community based interventions showed more brain activity  when looking at the toys
    • Only 5 percent of the children receiving community based interventions showed higher levels of brain activity when looking at faces.


    The children receiving the ESDM also had better social skills and were better at communicating than those who received community based interventions. They had a higher rate of making eye contact, imitating others and had improved cognitive function, life skills and language.  According to Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, “This may be the first demonstration that a behavioral intervention for autism is associated with changes in brain function as well as positive changes in behavior.” [3]




    [3] Autism Early Intervention Can Help Regulate Brain Activity in Kids,” 2012, Oct 27, Staff Writer, Medical News Today


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    [1] [2] “The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM),” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Autism Speaks


Published On: January 09, 2013