What is the Early Start Denver Model?
The Early Start Denver Model is an evidence-based, comprehensive, play-based approach that helps autistic children develop 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 uses a model that combines Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) approaches with developmental techniques.
Other common names for this therapy include the Denver Model.
Who is the Early Start Denver Model for?
This therapy is designed for autistic toddlers and preschoolers or children in this age group with early signs of autism.
What is the Early Start Denver Model used for?
The Early Start Denver Model uses play to increase children’s interest in activities and other people. It teaches children that communicating with others is useful and postitive, so they’re motivated to keep trying. It also aims to improve communication skills and self-expression.
Where does the Early Start Denver Model come from?
The Early Start Denver Model was developed in the United States in 1981. It was initially called the ‘play school model’, because its key activities took place as part of children’s play activities.
What is the idea behind the Early Start Denver Model?
Autistic children have difficulty learning how to communicate and develop relationships. This therapy aims to help children learn these skills by:
- focusing on the communication and relationship skills children already have
- using play to gradually build on these skills in an intensive, structured and enjoyable way.
This approach is based on having (or developing) strong, positive relationships between children and their carers. The approach encourages these relationships by focusing on activities children enjoy and using these activities as the basis for teaching.
What does the Early Start Denver Model involve?
This approach involves working with an Early Start Denver Model team. This team is usually made up of a therapist, early intervention staff and parents.
The team works together to develop the child’s tailored program, which includes objectives, goals and activities targeting skill development. The therapist teaches parents and other carers how to implement the program whenever they’re with their children.
The program is used in different settings – one-to-one intensive teaching or therapy sessions, group sessions, specialised child care settings, typical preschool settings, and home.
The child’s progress is reviewed regularly.
The cost of the Early Start Denver Model varies, depending on the provider and the number of hours each week that children spend doing the program.
For children attending several sessions a week, the costs can be high. For children receiving the therapy in a specialised child care or preschool setting, the costs might be lower. You can also implement the therapy at home to help with costs.
You might be able to include the cost of using the Early Start Denver Model in children’s NDIS plans. You can contact the NDIS to find out.
Does the Early Start Denver Model work?
High-quality research shows positive effects from this therapy.
Who practises the Early Start Denver Model?
The Early Start Denver Model is usually delivered by an intervention team made up of parents, early intervention service staff and a therapist. Team members might be early childhood educators, child psychologists, speech pathologists and occupational therapists.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If your child is using the Early Start Denver Model, you’ll work with early intervention staff and a therapist to develop your child’s program. Once you’re trained, you can implement the program at home and regularly meet with the team to review progress.
Where can you find a practitioner?
To find a trained Early Start Denver Model therapist in Australia, see UC Davis Mind Institute’s list of Early Start Denver Model certified therapists.
If you’re interested in the Early Start Denver Model, it’s a good idea to speak about this therapy with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk about it with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood early intervention (ECEI) coordinator or NDIS local area coordinator (LAC), if you have one.
There are many therapies for autism. They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for autistic children takes you through the main therapies, so you can better understand your child’s options.