Confused by ESDM….here’s the low down.


ESDM –  A Way Forward


Most Parents are the first to be aware that their child has some sort of delay. A diagnosis will eventually confirm your suspicions. As many parents have relayed to us, the initial confirmation can be quite daunting, and where do you start looking for help.  

Your pediatrician and or your maternal child care nurse will often be your first point of contact and also advise on what to do next. There will be many allied health professionals involved in your child’s care going forward. Speech Pathologists and Psychologists, who will provide a diagnosis and be involved in your child’s wellbeing on going. 


ESDM therapy compliments all these other Allied health professionals, and we work closely with your allied health providers to ensure the most optimal outcome for your child. 

What is ESDM?


ESDM stands for Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is a comprehensive family-centred behaviour therapy for the effects of early autism for children aged 12-60 months old. It was developed in the United States in 1981. It was initially called the ‘play school model’, because its key fundamentals are integrated in your child’s everyday play activities. The Early Start Denver Model is an evidence-based, comprehensive, play-based therapy that helps children on the autism spectrum or with developmental delay progress in social communication skills, play skills, relationships and language through everyday activities. It focuses on helping children learn skills like showing interest, communicating with and responding to others, and playing with others. 

The Early Start Denver Model combines Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) approaches with developmental techniques.



Children with developmental delay have difficulty learning how to communicate and develop relationships. ESDM aims to help children learn these fundamental developmental skills by: 

  • Focusing on the communication and relationship skills children already have.

  • Using playand social reinforcement to gradually build on these skills in an enjoyable way. 
child therapy

ESDM therapy is based on developing strong, positive relationships between children and their carers and behavioural therapists. It encourages these relationships by focusing on activities children enjoy and using these activities as the basis for teaching. 


Who is the Early Start Denver Model designed for?  


ESDM is designed for children diagnosed with speech delay, developmental delay and Autism Spectrum Disorder between the ages of 12 months to 48 months and above. To get positive results, this behavioral therapy is recommended to commence at an early age to develop the necessary skills associated with a child’s development.

How does ESDM work?

This therapy involves working with an Early Start Denver Model team. This team is usually made up of lead behavioural therapists, early intervention behavioural therapists, parents and allied health practitioners.  

The team works together to develop the child’s tailored program, which includes goals with objectives and activities targeting skill development. The parent coach leads parents and other carers on to implement the ESDM outside of the centre.  

The program is used in different settings – one-to-one intensive teaching or behavioural therapy sessions in clinic or home, group sessions, mainstream child care settings and preschool settings. 

Does ESDM work ?

ESDM is evidence based and scientifically proven to help children with delays. There are numerous peer reviewed studies that parents can access to understand the right intervention for your child. Please see a further link from raising children’s network for further information. 

Since the inception of the program, research has been conducted to reveal the effectiveness of the program. One research study revealed by the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics shows how 48 children (aged 18-30 months) were categorized into two groups. While a group received the ESDM treatment, the other received something entirely different from the therapy. At the end of the research, it was observed that the group who received the behavioural therapy had an increase in IQ by 17.6 points and also showed a growth rate in their social and practical skills.   

Other studies reveal that children who received ESDM behavioural therapy at a young age had major progress with their language and social skills. In addition, this lead to increased brain function resulting in highly levels of their communication. These trials reveal that ESDM makes a positive impact on children with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.  

Who Practices ESDM Therapy?

The Early Start Denver Model is usually delivered by a team made up of parents, early intervention service staff and a behavioural therapist. Team members need to have a background in a health-related field including, early childhood educators, behaviour analysts, registered behaviour technicians, psychologistsspeech pathologists and occupational therapists. 

At Amazing Kids our team of behavioural therapists are all from Speech therapy, Psychology and education backgrounds. They are then required to complete the intensive ESDM programs that are provided by the UC Davis Mind Institute in California, USA. The program has been promoted and researched  further in group ESDM settings in Melbourne. Each Practice that provides ESDM Therapy must have a certified behavioural therapist that has to undergo rigorous supervision and training in order to deliver a program for your child.

Cost Considerations

Every session your child has with a behavioural therapist is One to One for three hours at a time. It is intensive in nature and is recommended in a clinical environment upon commencement of the first year of intervention.

Early intensive Behavioral intervention programs are recommended for two years to ensure generalisation of skills into mainstream environments such as kidnergartens and early learning centres (ELC).  

The cost will depend on how many hours your child is accessing a week. Evidence based intervention recommends between 15-20 hours of 1:1 per week ( 3 hour sessions once or twice a day).  

The National Disability Scheme (NDIS) will generally cover the cost of ESDM therapy if you are eligiable. Please find further information here on eligibility requirements. Amazing kids is able to assist with accessing NDIS and help with the reporting and information you will need for NDIS.

Parent Involvement 


If your child is using the Early Start Denver Model, you’ll work with early intervention staff and a behavioural therapist to develop your child’s program. We highly recommend enrolling in the parent training program. This together with the intensive therapy will provide you with the tools to continue what has been learnt with the therapist, so it can be followed through at home, kindergarten etc

Where can I get an ESDM Specialist?

You can talk to our ESDM specialists at our clinic in Hawthorn or Williamstown. We offer various programs that assist your child with highly-trained professionals that help your child develop vital skills through different developmental approaches and techniques.   

Book an appointment for a free 60 minute discussion with us by emailing or register on our website here. 


Early start for infants ESDM
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