Early Start Denver Model

Early Start Denver Model

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What is the Early Start Denver Model?

The Early Start Denver Model is an evidence-based, comprehensive, play-based approach to teaching that focuses on helping children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) develop social communication skills like showing interest and responding to others. The Early Start Denver Model emphasises the development of play skills, relationships and language.

Other common names for this therapy include the Denver Model.

Who is the Early Start Denver Model for?

This therapy is designed for toddlers and preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or with early signs of ASD. Young children diagnosed with other kinds of developmental and behavioural disorders can also use this intervention.

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 how communicating with others can help them, so they're motivated to keep trying. It also aims to improve communication skills and self-expression. This helps children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) get along with others, especially their parents.

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?

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulty learning how to communicate and develop relationships. This model 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 work 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?

An Early Start Denver Model team is usually made up of a therapist, early intervention staff and parents, who work together to develop a tailored program for the child. The program includes objectives, goals and activities targeting skill development. The approach is used in three different settings - one-to-one intensive teaching or therapy sessions, a typical preschool setting, and home.

The therapist teaches parents and other carers how to implement the program whenever they're with their children. Progress is reviewed regularly.

Cost considerations

There's a cost for the therapist's time, which is usually one hour a week.

Does the Early Start Denver Model work?

Research, including one high-quality study, has shown positive effects from this therapy. More high-quality studies are needed.

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 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, see UC Davis Mind Institute's list of Early Start Denver Model certified therapists.

You can find other professionals by going to:

  • Speech Pathology Australia - Find a speech pathologist
  • Occupational Therapy Australia - Find an occupational therapist
  • Australian Psychological society - Find a psychologist.

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 partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child's options.


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