ESDM and sensory issues

By May 14, 2018 May 14th, 2023 ESDM
Improving a child with autism sensory issues in the ESDM in early intervention clinic in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs.

Sensory issues in autism are very challenging. They challenge the child, parents, teachers and therapists. The sensory responses interfere with a child’s ability to learn. The Early Start Denver Model, ESDM, uses specific techniques to address the sensory issues of children with autism.


Young children with autism frequently have sensory issues. It is part of the diagnosis criteria for autism. We describe some children as ‘under responsive’. Theses children often appear passive and lethargic. Other children are  described as ‘over responsive’. They children are more active and restless. Some children can be a bit of both. They can be ‘under responsive’ in one sensory area, and ‘over responsive’ in another sensory systems.

The signs of sensory sensitivities vary between children. It is hard to tell if a child is ‘over responsive’ or ‘under responsive’. Therefore, it is important to learn more about this area. The ‘Raising Children Network’ has an excellent description of sensory issues in this post.


The certified ESDM Therapist constantly monitors the child’s attention and ability to learn. This allows the therapist to immediately respond to sensory signs. Then the therapist can bring the child’s learning back to an optimal state. The rigorous training that the therapist goes through in their ESDM certification process means that they have the skills to do this quickly and effectively. At every session, the ESDM therapist will:

  1. Arrange the space because this facilitates processing, organisation and modulation of sensory stimuli.
  2. Manage the quantity and quality of sensory stimuli in the session.
  3. Provide a clear purpose to each activity so that it is easier to process.
  4. Choose play materials and activities that take the child’s sensory issues into account
  5. Modify the tone of voice because this modulates arousal
  6. Modify the level of the adult activity so it supports learning


When a child’s sensory issues continue to impact their learning as they move through their Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) program, our certified ESDM Therapists will look very closely at the child’s behaviours to determine the next step:

  • Do we need input from our Occupational therapist so that further adaptations can be made to the child’s program?
  • Is it a communication issue? Does our Speech Pathologist need to be involved so we can manage communication around the sensory issues?
  • Has the child’s response become a learned behaviour, and we need to seek advice from the Psychologist or Behavioural Analyst?

Importantly,  the Certified ESDM Therapist does not treat the sensory issues as a seperate issue. They manage them in the social and physical context of daily routines, therapy sessions and learning experiences so the child can learn constantly.

For more information about the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), then call us on (02) 8065783 or email us.