ESDM and fine motor skills

By May 14, 2023 May 30th, 2024 ESDM
Young boy doing fine motor skills in Early STart Denver Model ESDM clinic with Occupational Therapist in Bondi Junction or Mascot.

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, Occupational Therapists and Speech Pathologists. At our Bondi Junction and Mascot clinic, OnOnOne Children’s Therapy is proud to offer this early intervention to all our families. Let’s look at how the ESDM develops fine motor skills.

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

What are fine motor skills in the ESDM?

Fine motor skills refer to the coordination between your child’s small muscles, like those in their hands, wrists, and fingers in coordination with their eyes. Fine motor skills involve the small muscles of the body that enable such functions as writing, grasping small objects or toys, and fastening clothing. They also involve strength, fine motor control, and dexterity.

These skills are important in most preschool and school activities as well as in life in general. Weaknesses in fine motor skills can affect a child’s ability to eat, play with toys, perform personal care tasks, such as dressing and grooming, as well as turn pages in a book. When children go to school, fine motor difficulties can affect the ability to write clearly and use a computer.

Why are fine motor skills important in the ESDM?

Motor skills are an area that is often overlooked for young children with autism. If a child has trouble with fine motor skills, they may not be able to play with toys in the same way as other children. This could lead to them being more repetitive with their toys. Personal independence skills could be hard for them so they have a tantrum when they are told to get dressed. Fine motor skills are key to a child’s progress through the ESDM Curriculum.

What is autism?

Autism is a neuro-developmental 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 fine motor skills?

Autism impacts a child’s fine motor skills in some or all of the following ways:

  • hold small toys or objects
  • play with toys
  • open and close containers
  • get dressed
  • clean their teeth
  • use cutlery to eat
  • drink from an open cup
  • draw shapes
  • write letters and numbers
  • cut paper and other items
  • wash and dry their hands

As children get older, the fine motor skills get more complex. If your child missed any steps, they will find it very hard to complete tasks independently. When children with autism can’t do things for themselves, behaviour problems frequently occur.

How does the ESDM improve fine motor skills?

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 fine motor skills. These are the skills that children learn in the first six months of life. The ESDM systematically builds each skill at every level in the model. As a result, the child develops better fine motor skills. They are also able to learn more complex fine motor skills because their foundation of skills is stronger. There is no point teaching a child to write if they can’t hold and play with a variety of toys. It makes no sense to teach a child to tie their shoelaces if they don’t consistently use cutlery.

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 blog 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 and Mascot in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. ESDM is also available via Skype for remote and regional families.