ESDM vs ABA For My Child

By July 6, 2024 ESDM
ESDM vs ABA for my child with certified ESDM therapist in mascot, Bondi Junction in Sydney

Choosing the Right Intervention: ESDM vs. ABA for Your Child

When it comes to selecting the best intervention for your child with autism, parents often find themselves weighing the options between the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) and Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). Both approaches have strong evidence supporting their effectiveness, but they differ in methods and focus. Understanding these differences can help you make an informed decision that best suits your child’s unique needs.

Understanding ABA

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is one of the most widely recognised and researched interventions for children with autism. It focuses on understanding and improving specific behaviours through positive reinforcement. As a result, ABA therapists use a structured approach to teach new skills and reduce undesirable behaviours by breaking down tasks into smaller, manageable steps.

Key Features of ABA:

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy offers several distinct features that make it a widely used intervention for children with autism. To begin with, ABA sessions are often conducted in a highly structured environment. This structured setting uses discrete trial training (DTT) and other methods to teach specific skills effectively.

Moreover, ABA has a strong behavior focus. The primary goal of ABA therapy is to increase desirable behaviors, such as communication and social skills, while simultaneously decreasing behaviors that interfere with learning, such as tantrums and aggression. This dual focus ensures that children can develop positive habits and reduce problematic behaviors.

In addition, ABA is a data-driven approach. Therapists meticulously track and analyze progress to adjust strategies as needed. This ongoing assessment allows for continuous improvement and personalization of the therapy to meet the child’s unique needs.

Furthermore, ABA sessions are typically therapist-led. Therapists direct the sessions with specific goals in mind, ensuring that each session is purposeful and aligned with the child’s developmental objectives.

In summary, ABA’s structured environment, behavior focus, data-driven methodology, and therapist-led sessions work together to provide a comprehensive and effective approach to autism therapy.

Understanding ESDM

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is an early intervention approach specifically designed for young children with autism, typically aged 12-48 months. While it uses the teaching principles from ABA, it combines them with developmental and relationship-based strategies, emphasising play and naturalistic learning.

Key Features of ESDM:

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) offers several key benefits for children with autism, thanks to its innovative approach. Firstly, ESDM integrates learning into play activities, making sessions enjoyable and engaging for children. This play-based approach ensures that children stay motivated and interested throughout their therapy sessions.

In addition to its playful nature, ESDM has a strong developmental focus. The model targets a broad range of developmental skills, including communication, social interactions, and cognitive abilities. By addressing these crucial areas, ESDM helps children build a solid foundation for future growth.

Furthermore, ESDM therapy occurs in natural environments such as home or preschool. By embedding learning opportunities within daily routines, children can practice and apply their new skills in real-life contexts. This naturalistic setting enhances the generalization of skills, making them more meaningful and functional.

Lastly, ESDM actively involves parents in the therapy process. Parents receive training to incorporate therapeutic techniques into everyday interactions with their children. This parent involvement ensures that learning continues beyond the structured therapy sessions, providing consistent support for the child’s development.

Overall, ESDM’s play-based approach, developmental focus, naturalistic settings, and active parent involvement combine to create a comprehensive and effective intervention for children with autism.

Comparing ABA and ESDM

1. Approach to Learning

  • ABA: Uses a highly structured and systematic approach, often in controlled environments. Emphasises repetition and reinforcement.
  • ESDM: Utilises a flexible, play-based approach, integrating learning into natural settings. Emphasises engagement and social interaction.

2. Focus Areas

  • ABA: Primarily focuses on behaviour modification, using reinforcement to encourage desired behaviours and reduce problematic ones.
  • ESDM: Focuses on overall developmental progress, including social, communication, and cognitive skills, within a relational context.

3. Environment

  • ABA: Often conducted in clinical settings with specific therapy goals and sessions.
  • ESDM: Conducted in natural environments, such as the child’s home or preschool, within daily routines and activities.

4. Parental Involvement

  • ABA: Parents are involved but the primary focus is on therapist-led sessions.
  • ESDM: Parents play a critical role, being trained to use intervention strategies throughout the day.

Deciding Which Is Right for Your Child

Choosing between ABA and ESDM depends on your child’s specific needs and your family’s preferences. Here are some factors to consider:

1. Child’s Age and Developmental Stage

  • ESDM is specifically designed for very young children (12-48 months) and focuses on early developmental milestones. ABA can be adapted for children of all ages.

2. Learning Style

  • If your child responds well to structured, repetitive tasks and clear reinforcement, ABA might be more effective.
  • If your child thrives in a less structured, play-based environment and enjoys natural interactions, ESDM could be more suitable.

3. Family Involvement

  • Consider how much you want to be directly involved in the therapy process. ESDM requires significant parent participation, while ABA can be more therapist-led.

4. Therapy Setting

  • Think about where you want the therapy to take place. ESDM integrates therapy into everyday settings, while ABA may involve more clinic-based sessions.

Real-Life Success Stories

ABA Success:

Sarah, a 5-year-old with autism, made significant strides in communication and social skills through ABA. Her parents noted that the structured environment and clear reinforcement helped her understand expectations and improve her behaviour. This structured approach provided Sarah with a predictable and supportive learning environment where she could thrive. Through consistent ABA therapy, Sarah learned to communicate more effectively, interact positively with her peers, and navigate social situations with greater confidence.

ESDM Success:

Ethan, a 2-year-old with autism, thrived in the ESDM program. His parents appreciated the play-based approach, which made therapy fun and engaging. Over time, Ethan showed remarkable improvement in his social interactions and communication skills. The integration of learning into play activities allowed Ethan to practice new skills in a natural and enjoyable context. This approach not only enhanced his development but also made therapy sessions something to look forward to.


Both ABA and ESDM offer valuable approaches to supporting children with autism. The best choice depends on your child’s individual needs and your family’s circumstances. By understanding the key features and benefits of each model, you can make an informed decision that will provide the best support for your child’s growth and development.

Contact Us

At OneOnOne Children’s Therapy, we offer both ABA and ESDM programs tailored to meet the unique needs of each child. Our team of certified ESDM therapists is here to help you navigate this important decision.

Call us at (02) 80657837
Email us to book a consultation

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