Facts and resources

The Early Start Denver Model Training Program is committed to learning more and doing more to reduce barriers and increase our outreach and support for families and Autistic children.  We understand the importance of approaching all families with cultural humility and of learning to be better listeners in order to be better helpers and supports.

According to The National Guideline for the Assessment and Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Australia (Whitehouse et al, 2018), ASD is defined as:

"Autism is the collective term for a group of neurodevelopmental disorders characterised by persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction and by repetitive patterns of behaviour and restricted interests."

Promoting brain development

ESDM actively reduces difficulties by promoting brain development

  • Teaching skills during early years when rapid learning occurs
  • Redirecting the child's focus of attention back to people
  • Using effective engagement in all of our interactions
  • Teaching many skills at once, so we are stimulating connectivity between differents parts of the brain

Worldwide, the prevalence of Autism is 1 in 59 children.

Autism diagnosis is 4-5 times more common in males. However, current research studies are interested in females and how Autism can present quite differently in girls.

Autism tends to emerge in the early childhood years, between 2 and 3 years of age.

Father and child having a picnic on the grass

Scientific research has gained a lot of knowledge about early brain development and its role in early learning.

Everyday routines and experiences have an important role in shaping the child's brain for learning.

Even though we know that genes set the stage for development, its the early experiences that actually stimulate the brain.

The brain processes information by forming connections and networks. These connections are called synapses.

Educator playing with children

Our genetic code is always responding to our environment. Autism seems to be caused by a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors.

If a child goes on to develop Autism due to these combining factors, it's important to understand that biology isn't destiny.

Birdseye view of an adult playing with blocks with children

Rapid learning rates occur before the age of 3, because synapses are formed at a faster rate than at any other time in our lives.

Repeated use of a behaviour or skill strengthens a synapse.

Those that are rarely used are weakened.

The infant with ASD pays less and less attention to people.

Instead of focusing on people, they tend to focus on objects and unusual details in their environments.

So the synapses in those areas of the brain and strengthened

Child looking at mothers eye with a magnifying glass


Engagement team member Elizabeth Aylward Empowering Autistic and Neurodivergent Communities through research and practice
Mother sitting with toddler and infant on a couch. They are interacting with a tablet PLAY & LEARN TOGETHER: A FREE ONLINE RESOURCE FOR PARENTS AND CARERS
Leanne Gibbs and Liz Aylward sitting in lounge chairs, having a discussion EXPERT INSIGHT: A PLAY-BASED APPROACH TO HELPING CHILDREN WITH ASD

Research and Reading

Here we share research and published papers for further reading on the effects of the Early Start Denver Model and autistic children, for all those caring for and or working with autistic children. Please note that some of these research articles are free, and some require payment.

Randomized, Controlled Trial of an Intervention for Toddlers With Autism: The Early Start Denver Model.
(Free article)
The National Center for Biotechnology Information
Pediatrics, 2010 Jan; 125(1): e17-e23.

Play Partner Decision Tree

Action plan

Step one

Approach the child when he/she is playing with an enjoyable activity

  • Sit near/opposite child and back up if he/she fusses
  • Watch, smile, comment positively

The goal is to have the child accept your presence

Step two

Narrate the child’s actions using only one word, comment on:

  • Materials
  • How the child is using the materials
  • Don’t worry about touching materials or teaching yet

The goal is to slowly increase your involvement without challenging the child

Step three

Slowly involve yourself in play

  • Offer materials
  • Make sure you have 2 of each
  • Only touch materials not yet claimed by the child
  • Continue to narrate

The goal is for the child to watch you hand the materials over, eye contact to receive the materials is not necessary at this point

Step four

Be helpful

  • Place objects in sealed containers when he/she is not looking
  • Show new toys he/she cannot operate on their own
  • Be sure to give the item straight back when you have helped

The goal is for the child to see you being helpful with materials




Step one

Follow steps 1-4 from the Supportive Play Partner plan above.

If the child is still engaged, proceed with the following

  • Imitate all child’s sounds and actions
  • Imitate his/her actions with same materials
  • Use one word to narrate the each action

The goal is to gain eye contact to your face and materials, and to find the smile.

Step two

Start offering choices

  • For every 3 times you imitate the child, offer a choice related to the play eg. Roll or crash?
  • Don’t worry about eye contact yet

The goal is for the child to become more active in decision making and to increase the length of the activity.

Step three

Slowly increase your play ideas

  • For every 3 times you offer a choice, ask him/ her to do something in the play (put/show/give etc)
  • Make sure there is a fun reward in you face and voice, so that the consequence is worth the effort

The goal is for the child to become more active and take turns following your ideas in play.

Step four

Provide teaching opportunities

  • For every 3 times you provide a fun reward, have the child respond to your teaching cue with a nonverbal behaviour (eye contact, gesture, body movement)
  • The behaviour needs to be directed towards you and relate to the activity
  • Accept all attempts and reward the child with big smile and voice

The goal is to have the child use an intentional behaviour in response to your cue (antecedent), followed by the reward (consequence).

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