Ashleigh and her son engage in some playtime with an Early Start Denver Model therapist ESDM therapist Netti Heslewood.

Early Start Autism Clinic expands support and training for parents and professionals

Early Start Autism Clinic expands support and training for parents and professionals

Behavioural intervention aims to increase child’s development, decrease autism symptoms

In response to community demand, the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Early Start Autism Clinic has launched an expanded offering of support services and training to help parents, carers, early childhood educators, therapists and others caring for and working with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The Autism Clinic provides evidence-based early intervention and mental health support services, as well as workshops and professional training in the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM).

UOW Early Start Denver Model Program Manager Dr Elizabeth Aylward said the program aimed to increase the child’s development in all domains while decreasing the symptoms of autism.

“The Early Start Denver Model can significantly improve cognitive, communication and adaptive behaviours of children with autism spectrum disorder,” Dr Aylward said.

“The essence behind the Early Start Denver Model is to bring the child with autism back into the social loop at every opportunity because the child with autism starts to drift out of that social loop at around six months of age.

“The social loop is where the child is socially engaged with others, and where the typically developing child does most of their learning. By paying attention to other people – to their faces, their voices, their actions, their gestures – that's where all of a young child’s observational learning occurs and we can achieve this for children with Autism, using high quality evidence-based interventions.

“At around six months of age, children with autism spectrum disorder start to babble less, they start to pay less and less attention to the people around them. They're gradually falling out of that social loop so missing out on all those valuable learning opportunities and that has a cascading effect on their overall development.”

An evidence-based behavioural intervention specifically designed for young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, the Early Start Denver Model is embedded in play and daily routines,

“It equips the adult with skills to engage the child in a play partner relationship and find their smile, so they are motivated to attend to our face, voice and actions, and engage in back and forth interactions. This enables us to promote their participation in learning through play,” Dr Aylward said.

Strong scientific research supports the efficacy of the program, with a recent randomised controlled trial showing a direct correlation between the fidelity of professionals and parents trained in the Early Start Denver Model and the developmental progress of children.

“Essentially, whatever we're doing, whether it's reading a book or doing a puzzle or playing outdoors, the focus is to get that lovely alternating attention between the activity and the child's attention to our face and our voice and our actions,” Dr Aylward said.

The UOW Early Start Autism Clinic is the only authorised Early Start Denver Model training site in Australia and the only approved training site outside of the United States.

It offers the most comprehensive ESDM program in the country, providing:

  • Support services, direct therapy and workshops for parents and carers of children with ASD;
  • Professional development (training) for educators and therapy assistants;
  • Advanced training for health, psychology, education and medical professionals; 
  • Certification in the ESDM to achieve a high level of fidelity in delivering the model;
  • Professional development support for organisations and teams across the Autism sector.


The UOW Early Start Autism Clinic team

The UOW Early Start Autism Clinic team