How Does ESDM Therapy Work?

By July 8, 2024 ESDM
Learn how the ESDM therapy works with young children with autism in Bondi JUnction and Mascot

How Does ESDM Therapy Work?

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is a comprehensive, evidence-based therapy designed to help young children with autism develop critical skills. By combining the teaching principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) with developmental and relationship-focused therapy approaches, ESDM creates a nurturing and effective learning environment. Here’s how ESDM therapy works to support your child’s growth and development.

Play-Based and Naturalistic Approach

ESDM therapy is rooted in play-based and naturalistic teaching methods. This means that learning occurs through play and everyday activities, making it both enjoyable and meaningful for children. Therapists follow the child’s interests and use these preferences to guide sessions, embedding learning opportunities within fun, interactive play. We know that children better when they are motivated by the activity and have fun in the activity.

Individualised and Comprehensive

Each ESDM session is tailored to the child’s unique needs. Therapists develop a comprehensive set of personalised learning plans that target specific developmental goals. The therapist  chooses activities that interest the child but also target goals.These goals encompass various areas, including communication, social skills, cognitive abilities, and motor skills. The comprehensive nature of ESDM ensures that therapy addresses all aspects of a child’s development.

Key Components of ESDM Therapy

1. Personalised Learning Plans:

Therapists create individualised plans based on thorough assessments. These plans are comprehensive and address all areas of development. They focus on the child’s strengths and areas for improvement, ensuring that each session is relevant and effective.

2. Interactive Play:

Play is the primary medium through which children learn in ESDM. Therapists use toys, games, and activities that captivate the child’s interest, turning playtime into valuable learning moments. Some activities are floor based activities that target social interaction. Other activities are table top but still based round play. Each child spends part of each session in our Occupational Therapy gym to target outdoor activities and skills.

3. Naturalistic Teaching:

Learning is embedded in natural settings and natural activities, such as during play or daily routines. Learning does not include table top drills that have no natural context. This approach helps children apply new skills in real-life situations, promoting generalisation and mastery.

4. Positive Reinforcement:

ESDM therapists use positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviours and skill acquisition. Praise, encouragement, and rewards make learning a positive experience for the child.

5. Parent Involvement:

Parents are crucial participants in ESDM therapy. Therapists train parents to implement ESDM techniques at home, ensuring consistent reinforcement of skills. This collaborative approach strengthens the parent-child bond and supports continuous development.

Typical ESDM Session Structure

Warm-Up and Relationship Building:

Sessions often begin with activities designed to engage the child and build rapport. This could include songs, greetings, or a favorite game.

Targeted Skill Development:

After the warm-up activity, therapists introduce activities and games that focus on specific developmental goals, such as improving communication or social interaction.

Naturalistic Teaching:

Learning opportunities are woven into play, with therapists following the child’s lead and incorporating teachable moments throughout the session.

Positive Reinforcement:

Throughout the session, therapists use praise and encouragement to reinforce positive behaviours and skill acquisition.

Parent Coaching:

Sessions may also include time at the ned of each session for parent coaching, where therapists guide parents on how to use ESDM techniques at home.

Benefits of ESDM Therapy

ESDM therapy has been shown to improve a wide range of skills in children with autism, including:

Enhanced Communication:

Children develop better verbal and non-verbal communication skills, helping them express themselves and understand others.

Improved Social Skills:

ESDM fosters social interaction, turn-taking, and relationship-building, enabling children to engage more effectively with peers and adults.

Increased Independence:

By developing essential life skills, children become more independent and confident in handling daily tasks and challenges.

Cognitive Development:

Activities stimulate thinking and problem-solving abilities, preparing children for academic success and everyday decision-making.


ESDM therapy is a powerful tool for supporting the development of young children with autism. By focusing on play-based, naturalistic teaching methods and involving parents in the process, ESDM creates a supportive and effective learning environment. This comprehensive approach helps children develop crucial skills, leading to better long-term outcomes and a more fulfilling life.

For more information on how ESDM therapy can benefit your child, visit OneOnOne Children’s Therapy. Contact us on (02) 80657837 or email us. Our Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapists and Certified ESDM Therapists are dedicated to helping your child reach their full potential.

Leave a Reply