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The ESDM and Receptive Communication

Autism is a complex neurodevelopment condition. Early intervention is key to helping children with autism. The Early Start Denver Model, or ESDM, is an intervention for young children with autism. It is delivered by our certified ESDM therapists. At our Sydney clinic, OnOnOne Children’s Therapy is proud to offer this early intervention to all our families.

This series of posts will help parents understand how the ESDM improves the features of autism so children can grow and learn.

What is receptive communication?

Receptive communication is the ability to understand the world around you. Very often, people think that receptive communication is only following instructions and answering questions. It is so much more! Receptive communication includes:

  • Understanding and gaining meaning from the regular routine (e.g. when breakfast is finished then it is time to get dressed)
  • The ability to understand visual information from people and objects (e.g. when mum holds up her keys that means you are going for a ride in the car, when you see a green light it means ‘go’),
  • Understanding sounds and words (e.g. the front door bell means that someone has arrived at the house, the word ‘dog’ means the animal that has 4 legs and says ‘woof’),
  • Then understanding more complex concepts that people use such as size, shape, colours and time, grammar (e.g. regular plurals: cat/s, regular past tense: fetch/ed)
  • The ability to understand written information including signs in the environment and books and stories.

Why is it important?

Receptive communication skills are the the first step in communication. To take part in the world, we all need to be able to understand all the signs and signals around us. We need to understand the information or cues from people and objects. Receptive language allows us to communicate successfully. It allows us to follow instructions at home and at day care or school. This means children respond appropriately to questions and instructions. It is easier to listen and pay attention when you understand what is happening around us. When this happens, children have better behaviour. Good receptive communication makes learning easier! When you understand what is happening in the classroom, you can learn it.

How do you develop receptive language skills?

There are a number of underlying skills that support receptive language skills. These skills need to develop at the right time and in the right order to support receptive language skills:

  • Attention and concentration: The ability to notice or hear sounds and words in the environment. After the child hears sounds or words, then they need to attend to them for the appropriate period of time without being distracted.
  • Pre-language skills: These include the ability to use eye contact, understand and use facial expressions, and understand and use gestures. The ability to imitate is key to later receptive communication.
  • Social skills: The motivation and ability to engage in a ‘to-and’fro’ interaction with someone else, whether it is verbal or non-verbal.
  • Play skills: Developing increasingly more complex play skills underpins everything a child learns, including receptive communication skills.

What is autism?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition which means that it affects the brain’s growth and development. It is a lifelong condition, with symptoms that are noticed very early in the child’s life:

Autism interferes with development because it causes:

  • Difficulties communication and interacting
  • Repetitive and unusual behaviours such as moving their bodies in different ways
  • Strong interest in one toy, or topic, or area of interest
  • Unusual sensory reactions to what they see, hear, smell, touch or taste
  • Strong preference for things to be the same and difficulty with change on many levels
  • Autism always affects the way individuals interact with others and how they experience the world around them.

What is the ESDM?

The ESDM is an early intervention model for young children with autism. It targets the key features of autism, and has as strong evidence base for very young children.

The ESDM involves intensive teaching in play-based sessions. It uses a curriculum that has strong focus on building interactions and relationship in everyday routines. The ESDM uses the teaching principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis. These principles have been researched and are the best way to teach children with autism.

It draws upon several different but approaches, including the original Denver model (Rogers et al 1986), Rogers and Pennington’s model of autism as a disorder of autism. Over 30 years of research has gone in to this ground breaking intervention program.  you can find out more about the principles of the ESDM here.

How does autism impact receptive communication?

Autism impacts a child’s receptive communication in some or all of the following ways:

  • listening to sounds and noises around them
  • noticing and responding to other people speaking
  • responding to their name
  • following simple instructions in the daily routine
  • learning new instructions so they they can follow lots of everyday instructions at home and at day care
  • following 2 step instructions
  • understanding simple questions
  • understanding longer instructions and more complex questions
  • knowing what other people’s facial expressions mean
  • being aware of what is happening in the area around you so you can join your friends in what they are doing
  • understanding how to play with different toys

The list of ways that autism can impact a child’s receptive language is huge. In summary, it can make life trickier for everything they do. As children get older, the receptive language skills get more complex. If your child missed any steps, they will find it very hard to understand more complex information. When children with autism don’t understand what is happening or what people are saying, behaviour problems frequently occur.

How does the ESDM improve receptive communication?

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) has four levels that follow general development for children. However, it focuses on the areas that challenge young children with autism.

One of the strengths of the ESDM is that it takes children back to the earliest receptive communication skills. These are the skills that children learn in the first three months of life. The ESDM systematically builds each skill at every level in the model. As a result, the child develops better receptive communication skills. They are also able to learn more complex receptive communication skills because their foundation of skills is stronger. There is no point teaching a child to follow more instructions if they don’t respond to voice when people start talking near them. It makes no sense to teach a child to answer questions if they don’t consistently follow simple, everyday instructions.

The ESDM involves a high rate of teaching. The Certified ESDM Therapists engages and teaches the child every 20-30 seconds. This high rate ensure the there is plenty of repetition for the child to learn.

How do I find out more about the ESDM?

Continuing reading our bog posts as we add more information about the ESDM.

OneOnOne Children’s Therapy offers the ESDM. We were one of the first small private intervention clinics in New South Wales to offer this evidence based practice. In our Sydney clinic, our certified ESDM therapists constantly strive to deliver the Early Start Denver Model at the highest levels of fidelity so we can improve children’s lives.

If you are interested in learning more about how the Early Start Denver Model can support your child’s learning and development, please call us on (02) 80657837 or email us. OneOnOne Children’s Therapy is located in Bondi Junction in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. ESDM is also available via Skype for remote and regional families.

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