Innovative treatment for Autism: The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)


ESDM is an evidenced-based, early-intervention program used to treat infants & toddlers with autism. The model was developed at the UC Davis Mind Institute of the University of California and uses intensive play-based activities embedded into daily routines to improve cognitive skills.

Acknowledged as one of the top 10 medical breakthroughs in 2012, it is designed to enhance language, non-verbal communication, imitation, joint attention, play, motor & self-care skills. Several published studies have demonstrated improvements in the cognitive skills, IQ, language and social behaviour of young children with autism. The model is widely used in the USA, Canada, Australia and France and we are delighted to be the first clinic in the UK to provide ESDM Parent Coaching for families, both face to face and remotely.

What is Early Intervention?

Early Intervention is the intervention implemented during infancy and pre-school years to children who have developmental differences when compared to their peers. The goal is for these children to minimise the difference with their peers and reach their full potential. According to the charity Autism Speaks, early intervention affords the best opportunity for healthy development and long-term benefits.

Why the earlier the intervention the better?

The younger the brain, the greater the plasticity and thus there is a great window of opportunity for learning new skills. According to the Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, the first years of life are the ones where the brain’s ability to change in response to experiences is the highest, while at the same time this change requires less effort. As the years go by, the brain gets less able to change in response to the environment, while these changes require more effort.

What is ESDM?

ESDM derives from studies in Developmental Psychology and Behavioural Science. It is play-based and applied in natural settings like the child’s own home or the nursery/ early education setting. The learning also occurs in everyday situations such as playtime, mealtime, nappy change and bathtime so it is easy for parents and caregivers to practise. ESDM boosts positive and fun relationships and interactions between children and caregivers and thus enhances learning.

Who can apply ESDM?

Parents and other caregivers (grandparents, nannies etc) can apply ESDM under the supervision of an ESDM specialist. It is never ‘too early’ to start ESDM as it can facilitate typical development and learning of babies who are at risk as well as change the developmental trajectory of toddlers who are already diagnosed.

Who is it for?

Families with concerns about the development of their infant or toddler, or whose toddler already has a diagnosis of autism or another developmental condition, can benefit immensely from the Early Start Denver Model. ESDM was originally created based on the strengths and difficulties of children with autism but has helped numerous young children including premature babies and siblings of children with autism who are at risk of developing autism and children diagnosed with conditions such as Global Developmental delay, ADHD, William’s syndrome and intellectual disabilities, to name a few.

Why we offer ESDM Parent Coaching at Re:Cognition Health

At Re:Cognition Health we proudly offer the bespoke ESDM Parent Coaching programme, which is the first of its kind in the UK. Parents and caregivers learn how to interact and play with the child and they become the child’s ‘therapist’, under the ongoing supervision and support of our ESDM specialist. Young children spend most of their waking hours with caregivers in everyday activities and contexts. Changing those daily experiences to meet the learning needs of young children with ASD can provide more opportunities for practise and learning than any external provider can. Even when external providers work with the child, there is still the need for parental involvement for emotional reasons (due to the very young age of the children) but also for generalisation purposes (newly learned skills need to be practised among different people and environments to become mastered).