ESDM therapy and Imitation

By November 26, 2018 May 14th, 2023 ESDM
Group of children with autism doing the Early Start Denver Model ESDM early intervention in a clinic in Mascot Sydney

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. Let’s look at how the ESDM develops imitation skills.

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

What is imitation?

Imitation is the ability to copy what others do. When children copy what others do they learn skill. Imitation starts with very simple things. Babies learn to smile to their parent say copying their parents smiling at them. Imitation becomes quire complex when children learn to copy multiple play actions as they build and play with Duplo. Imitation happens when children:

  • Copy gestures such as waving and pointing
  • Copy what someone else does with a toy
  • When they make sounds and say words
  • When they do the same actions to songs at preschool as he other children
  • Copy what other children do in the sandpit or in the playground
  • Copy longer phrase or sentences that their parents
  • Use facial expressions and behaviours that they see other children use

Why is imitation important?

Imitation is the cornerstone to children’s development. Children learn by imitating what other people do. When they first learn to imitate then don’t necessarily understand what or why they are imitating. Their brains are hardwired to copy. As times go on and the imitate more, meaning gets attached to eat they imitating. They understand the purpose of what they imitated and they learn to use it appropriately.

How do children develop imitation skills?

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

  • They watch other people and what they do
  • Then use their fine, gross motor and oral-motor skills to imitate what the other persons does
  • They repeat the actions many times
  • Then attach meaning to the imitations
  • They use the actions meaningfully

When children imitate and learn to use an earlier developing skill, then they imitate and learn to use the next skill. As children imitate and learn skills it builds the foundation for growing, making friends and learning at school.

What is autism?

Autism is a 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 imitation?

Children with autism find it much harder to imitate. This often happened because they are responding and looking at people around them. For children to imitate, they have to look at what other people are doing around them. Some children look at other people but they focus on a different aspect of what the other person does. When one child drives a truck through the sandpit, the child with autism my not look at the action of driving. They could be watching the wheels spin. When it is their turn to play with the truck they just spin the wheels and they don’t learn to play functionally with the truck.

The lack of imitation in autism prevents children from may things including:

  • learning to follow instructions
  • the ability to talk
  • learning to play appropriately with toys
  •  making friends
  • understanding emotions
  • learning to control emotions and behaviour

How does the ESDM improve imitation?

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.

Imitation skills are some of the earliest developing skills in a child’s life. It is also one of the earliest areas of intervention for children with autism. In the ESDM we look at the very early aspects of imitation to ensure that each child has the best foundation of imitation. The ESDM looks at:

  • imitating actions on toys
  • copying actions in songs
  • imitating movements with your face and mouth
  • imitating 2 or more steps in a play activity
  • the ability to copy sounds and words
  • imitating 2 word phrases

How do I find out more about the ESDM?

You can read more about the ESDM and how it improves all areas of development:

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.