Learning in Play with the Early Start Denver Model

At Building BLOCS our goal is to create a fun and engaging environment where your child wants to play and learn, while also supporting high levels of skill acquisition and addressing any behaviors of concern. We use the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) as the model for our ABA therapy services. This model is a naturalistic play-based model of therapy that we believe supports a partnership in therapy between the child client and the adult provider.

What is the Early Start Denver Model?

The ESDM is a teaching curriculum developed as an early intervention for children between the ages of 12 months and 60 months of age. It uses specific teaching procedures that are based on how infants and toddlers learn to help teach skills. A combination of applied behavior analysis (ABA) techniques as well as strategies from pivotal response training (PRT) form the main components of its curriculum.

Main Components of the ESDM

  • Play as the frame for intervention

Play is a natural place for children to learn. Skills to be taught are embedded in play activities and preferred materials.

  • Partnership through turn taking and dyadic engagement

Therapy activities are joint activities where both the therapist and the client contribute to the activity and build upon each other’s contributions. Both partners take turns and share control of the play activity.

  • Adult response to child’s affect, attentional state and communicative acts

The adult therapist attends to the child’s motivation, attention and communicative acts. The adult responds accordingly in an effort to ensure the client is “heard”.

  • Child is given choices and interests are followed

Therapy activities are often child-led. This means the therapist follows the interest of the child and embeds targeted skills within those interests and choices.

  • Clear and efficient teaching and management of errors

Instruction follows the ABC format found in applied behavior analysis; Instruction (antecedent), Response (behavior), Reinforcement (consequence).  Skills are taught using applied behavior analysis techniques such as prompting, shaping and error correction.

  • Multiple and varied communication opportunities with adult language appropriate to the child’s level

Within all activities, whether it is a toy play activity, a snack, an art project, or an outdoor exploration period, communication opportunities are created and supported at the child’s level.

The components of the ESDM come together to produce a therapeutic model that focuses on services occurring in a natural play environment. Here the therapist and client can co-create a session filled with client choice and interest.  A post about what therapy sessions look like can be found here.

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