Early start denver model


The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is a model of intervention for young children with autism. It is a ground breaking intervention for a number of reasons.

The ESDM is based on scientific evidence about how young children develop and learn. It works to reduce the impact that autism has on early development and learning. Importantly, the ESDM uses the most proven ways to teach young children with autism.

The ESDM is a play based approach that fuses the best of all the evidence-based programs for young children with autism. Our goal is to embed the ESDM into every play activity and family routine across the whole day. When we do this, children learn across their daily activities.

OneOnOne Children’s Therapy was the first private allied health practice to offer the Early Start Denver Model in Sydney. We strive to deliver the ESDM at the highest levels of fidelity. Above all, we want the best outcome for every child.

The ESDM uses the best of all the evidence-based programs for young children with autism. It is an intervention that uses play to build skill across all area of development:

  • Receptive Communication
  • Expressive Communication
  • Imitation
  • Joint Attention
  • Social Skills
  • Cognition
  • Fine Motor Skills
  • Gross Motor Skills
  • Personal Independence
  • Behaviour

The Early Start Denver Model is:


The activities and reinforcers that we use in the ESDM are based on normal play and fun activities. Equally important, the reinforcers are natural social reinforcers


It reflects the regular developmental pattern for children but there is a stronger focus on the areas that children with autism find more challenging

Evidence based teaching principles

The model uses the teaching principles of ABA because research shows that these principles are the best way of teaching children with autism. We give the child an instruction, if we don’t the desired response then we carefully prompt them to learn the skill, then we gradually fade the prompt so that the child becomes independent in the skill. As a result, children learn faster and maintain their skills.


The Early Start Denver Model approach combines many of the goals of Speech Pathology and Occupational Therapy.


We assess each using the ESDM Curriculum Checklist. A comprehensive list goals and teaching steps are written. The ESDM therapist carefully selects play activities and materials, and then organises the room in such a way that it attracts the child’s attention and facilitates transition from one activity to the next. This also means that they are able to 5-6 goals on every toy or activity that the child selects. All ESDM sessions alternate between floor based social activities, and table top toy based activities. This allows the therapist to regulate the child’s alertness and ability to learn. Detailed records are kept from each session.

Parents are actively involved in choosing their child’s goals. We work with you to ensure that you see progress at home and day care, not just in the clinic.

Each child’s programme is managed by a Certified ESDM therapist. Every therapist in our clinic has a qualification in Speech Pathologist, Psychology or Occupational Therapist.


Generalisation is a key component to the ESDM. This means that children in the ESDM model can use their skills with a variety of people, in a variety of settings. It is important that the skills move beyond the supportive environment of our clinic rooms.

One of the ways we do this is through the Group ESDM program. Children who attend Individual ESDM sessions may move to the group sessions. These are small groups of up to 4 children. We match children in their developmental abilities so that skills can be generalised to peers, and social communication can thrive.


OneOnOne Children’s Therapy offers an intensive ESDM program. The program runs for 3 hours per day and is available for 5 days a week. This is a group program with a heavy emphasis on participating in all aspects of the group activities and developing skills with peers. Even though the program is delivered in a group model, each child has an individual program and the goal is to support each child to achieve their goals. We recommend that children attend a minimum of 2 days in the intensive ESDM program. The research that supports this group ESDM program was completed in Australia at La Trobe University. If you are interested in the intensive program, please contact the clinic as spaces are limited.


Each family has a Key Worker, who is their main contact regarding their child’s individual ESDM program. Our Key Workers are experienced allied health professionals who are certified in the ESDM.

Your Key Worker meets with you each term to assess your child’s progress and collaboratively establish a new set of goals based on our child’s developing interests, understanding, communication, wellbeing, social skills and your priorities. Your Key Worker will also monitor your child’s progress and share this information with you, other members of the team, and coordinate referrals to other Allied Health specialists.


To use the ESDM as an intervention, each therapist has to be certified. This means that they:

  • Complete the Online Introductory Workshop.
  • Complete the 3 day Advanced Training Workshop.
  • Submit assessments, goals and objectives, teaching steps and videos to a certified ESDM Trainer.
  • Once the therapist has submitted the required number of videos and passed the fidelity scores, then they can be certified in the model.

Working towards certification takes approximately 6 months and requires about 100 hours of training. All ESDM therapists at our clinic in Bondi Junction have completed this intensive level of training. They are certified by Kristy Capes who is a certified ESDM Trainer. Kristy is involved in many ongoing ESDM research projects and is the trainer for the group ESDM program. This investment in delivering an evidence based model of intervention for young children with autism means that children are able to move towards reaching their potential.

For more information about the ESDM, go to our blog.

key Info


  • Susan Marden
  • Lesley Kanellopoulos
  • Danielle Goodman
  • Christopher Sufani
  • Natalie Macedo
  • Cathy Quigg
  • Carmel Pinshaw
  • Annika Pincham
  • Patricia Velasco
  • Elana Naiger
  • Thomas Lucey
  • Celine Hui
  • Nazrey Aries
  • Carla Young
  • Antonella Masiello
  • Gemma Hickey


  • It uses the child’s interest as the choice of activity or toy
  • Positive Affect keeps the child focussed on the play partner, not just the toys
  • Play is the basis for every activity
  • Teaching occurs at a rapid rate
  • Challenging behaviours are managed through a positive behaviour approach
  • Family is involved in the goal selection and family can be trained to deliver the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) at home
  • The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is available for day care and preschool staff so that intensity of learning increases, and goals are generalised to other settings

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