Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is an evidence-based Naturalistic Developmental Behavioural Intervention embedded in play and daily routines, specifically designed for young children with autistic children.


  • Aims to increase the child’s development in all domains while decreasing the symptoms of autism.
  • Can significantly improve cognitive, communication and adaptive behaviours of children with autism. 
  • Fits well with mainstream early childhood education centres as well as the home environment.
  • Can help parents, early childhood educators, teachers, therapists, therapy assistants and psychologists to help autistic children.

The ESDM was developed by Professors Sally Rogers and Geraldine Dawson at the MIND Institute, University of California Davis. Early Start, at the University of Wollongong, is one of four places in the world outside of the USA which is an approved ESDM training provider.

What are the guiding principles of the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)?

In this video, Elizabeth Aylward, ESDM Program Manager at Early Start, University of Wollongong, explains the guiding principles of the Early Start Denver Model.

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Okay the Early Start Denver Model is made up of two major Components, half of-one component is the Early Start Denver Model curriculum Checklist, which is the 480 item assessment tool that spans 0 to 48 Months of developmental age, it covers all developmental domains. So a child is assessed against that assessment tool on entry to any of the programs and that enables us to know exactly where to start teaching that child, it identifies their skills and the areas that they need extra work. From that assessment we developed a very comprehensive program for the child 34-36 objectives that span a quarter – a 10 week Quarter- and then each of those objectives is broken down, carefully broken down, into teaching steps which very very carefully scaffold the child's development from the immature version of a behaviour or skill to the more mature version of that behaviour or skill over that 10 to 12 week period. Data is collected against those objectives daily, so it's highly accountable which adds to the rigour, which is obviously added to the research behind this model. The other component of the model are the teaching principles. And the teaching principles are used to implement the child's program and objectives within joint activity routines. And the joint activity routine is a very carefully constructed routine as well, four paths, with a setup Phase, a theme elaboration where we add variations to the play because we're always needing to teach children with ASD more flexibility across play Materials, and we're always needing to optimize their motivation as well. And then close down and pack away. There are choices giving child choices pervades every activity that we do with a child and helping the child to make those choices so that we're capturing their motivation from the outset of an activity but then it's not so much a child lead model as a dyadic model it's about achieving that lovely dyadic balance like an old-fashioned pair of scales where they're the lead and follow and following lead, and the adult is having as many turns as the child is having in their sharing of gaze and sharing of smiles and sharing of materials and sharing of turns. And the child very quickly learns through these processes that the adult that we as the adult actually fun play partners and we're worth attending to and it doesn't take very long at all for them to learn that.

ESDM Certified participant Shabnam Mohammad

“I just wanted to help the children that I was teaching more…only once I did ESDM did I really understand the true importance of early intervention in children, and what difference that could have made to some of my students who I was teaching in secondary school.” 

Science teacher (11-18 years), global course participant,
 Certified ESDM therapist