Is ESDM Neurodivergent?

By June 5, 2024 June 13th, 2024 ESDM
ESDM aligns with neurodivergent approach in Bondi Junction and Mascot

Understanding Neurodivergent Approaches for Children with Autism

A neurodivergent approach recognises that people have different kinds of brains and thinking patterns. This means understanding that autism is a natural variation in the human brain and not something that needs to be fixed. Instead of trying to make children with autism fit into a typical mold, a neurodivergent approach supports their unique ways of thinking and learning. Let’s explore what a neurodivergent approach is and how it can help children with autism.

What Does Neurodivergent Mean?

The term “neurodivergent” includes people whose brains work differently than what is considered typical. This includes people with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other conditions. The idea is that these differences are natural and valuable. Neurodiversity is about celebrating these differences and finding ways to support each person’s unique strengths and challenges.

Understanding Autism

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), affects how a person communicates, interacts, and behaves. Children with autism might have trouble understanding social cues, have specific interests, or show repetitive behaviors. Every child with autism is different, so their needs and abilities can vary widely.

Key Principles of a Neurodivergent Approach

  1. Acceptance: Accepting that autism is a part of who the child is and not something to be cured. This means valuing the child’s unique perspective and ways of thinking.
  2. Strengths-Based: Focusing on the child’s strengths and abilities rather than just their challenges. By building on what they can do well, children can develop confidence and new skills.
  3. Individualised Support: Recognising that each child with autism is different and tailoring support to meet their specific needs.
  4. Inclusive Environment: Creating an environment that includes and supports children with autism, allowing them to participate fully in school, family life, and the community.
  5. Collaboration: Working together with families, teachers, and therapists to provide consistent support for the child.

How a Neurodivergent Approach Helps Children with Autism

A neurodivergent approach can be very beneficial for children with autism. Here’s how it can help:

  1. Improved Communication: By focusing on the child’s preferred ways of communication, whether it’s through speech, gestures, or technology, a neurodivergent approach helps improve their ability to express themselves.
  2. Better Social Skills: Instead of forcing children to socialise in a typical way, this approach helps them develop social skills that work for them. This can include teaching them to recognise social cues in a way that makes sense to them.
  3. Enhanced Learning: By using the child’s interests and strengths as a foundation for learning, they can engage more deeply with educational material. For example, if a child loves trains, incorporating trains into math lessons can make learning more enjoyable and effective.
  4. Reduced Anxiety: Children with autism often experience anxiety. A neurodivergent approach reduces this by creating a supportive and understanding environment, minimising stress and helping them feel more comfortable.
  5. Building Independence: Teaching children skills that promote independence, such as self-advocacy and problem-solving, helps them become more self-reliant and confident.

Strategies in a Neurodivergent Approach

Here are some strategies that can be used in a neurodivergent approach:

  1. Visual Supports: Using pictures, charts, and other visual aids to help children understand and follow routines.
  2. Sensory-Friendly Spaces: Creating spaces that accommodate the child’s sensory needs, such as quiet areas or sensory-friendly classrooms.
  3. Interest-Based Learning: Incorporating the child’s interests into learning activities to keep them engaged and motivated.
  4. Flexible Communication Methods: Using a variety of communication methods, such as sign language, picture exchange systems, or speech devices, to support the child’s preferred way of communicating.
  5. Positive Reinforcement: Encouraging desired behaviours by using positive reinforcement, such as praise, rewards, or other incentives.

The Role of Families and Educators

Families and educators play a crucial role in a neurodivergent approach. Here’s how they can support children with autism:

  1. Learning About Autism: Understanding autism and the child’s specific needs helps families and educators provide better support.
  2. Creating a Supportive Environment: Making changes at home and in the classroom to create a more inclusive and supportive environment.
  3. Advocating for the Child: Speaking up for the child’s needs and ensuring they receive the support and accommodations they need.
  4. Collaborating with Professionals: Working with therapists, doctors, and other professionals to develop and implement strategies that help the child.
  5. Encouraging Independence: Teaching and encouraging the child to develop skills that promote independence and self-advocacy.

Benefits of ESDM

  1. Improved Communication: Many children who go through ESDM therapy show significant improvements in their ability to communicate. They learn to use words, gestures, and other forms of communication effectively.
  2. Better Social Skills: ESDM helps children learn to interact with others, play with peers, and build relationships. These skills are crucial for their overall development and happiness.
  3. Enhanced Cognitive Skills: By focusing on thinking and problem-solving skills, ESDM helps children understand the world around them better. This can lead to improved academic performance later on.
  4. Reduced Challenging Behaviours: ESDM teaches appropriate behaviours and helps reduce challenging behaviours, making it easier for children to navigate daily life.
  5. Family Support: ESDM involves the whole family, providing parents with strategies and support to help their child. This creates a positive environment for the child’s development.

Why is ESDM Important for Neurodivergent Children?

Neurodivergent children, like those with autism, often face unique challenges. ESDM is important because it addresses these challenges in a way that is both effective and compassionate. Here are a few reasons why ESDM is particularly beneficial for neurodivergent children:

  1. Early Start: Starting therapy early can make a big difference in a child’s development. ESDM focuses on children as young as 12 months, giving them a head start in building essential skills.
  2. Tailored Approach: Every child with autism is different. ESDM’s individualised approach ensures that each child’s unique needs are met.
  3. Focus on Child’s Strengths and Interests: The ESDM always starts with the child’s interests and their strengths as we build more functional skills
  4. C0-creates: The therapist joins the child in their interest and way of playing then works with the child so they both have choices as to how the activity unfolds.
  5. Engaging and Fun: By using play-based activities, ESDM makes learning enjoyable for children. This increases their motivation and makes therapy more effective.
  6. Inclusive of Family: Involving parents and caregivers in the therapy process ensures that the child receives consistent support and reinforcement at home.
  7. Evidence-Based: ESDM is backed by research, showing that it can lead to significant improvements in communication, social skills, and overall development.


The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is a powerful tool for helping young children with autism. By focusing on early intervention, using a naturalistic approach, involving families, and tailoring therapy to each child’s needs, ESDM offers a comprehensive and effective way to support neurodivergent children. Its play-based, engaging methods help children develop critical skills that will benefit them throughout their lives. For parents and caregivers, ESDM provides hope and practical strategies to help their children thrive.

We’re here to support you

At OneOnOne Children’s Therapy, we believe that every child deserves the opportunity to grow and thrive.

Our clinics are not just a space for therapy – it’s a place where children can discover their strengths, overcome challenges, and reach their full potential.

By combining innovative therapy techniques with a stimulating and supportive environment, we’re proud to offer a holistic approach to paediatric therapy and early intervention that addresses the unique needs of each child we support.

Reach out for support

If you’re concerned about your child’s development or want to learn more about how ESDM can help your child, OneOnOne Children’s Therapy is here to help. We have clinics in Bondi Junction and Mascot – in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs.

Call us on (02) 80657837 or email. You can book a free 30 minute phone call with us to discuss how we can support your child’s unique journey