Autism: Homework & ESDM


Follow a story of a family whose little boy was diagnosed on the autism spectrum and the steps they took to overcome this diagnosis.

This story is a personal one and should not be taken for any medical advice. This is simply parental advice. If you are questioning the behavior your child is exhibiting please talk to a medical professional to attain a diagnosis through an evaluation.


By Becky Horace

I made it very clear to our child psychologist, I would do whatever it would take to help my son figure out what was going on. With that being said I was given homework assignments to learn more about the process that would be used in helping my son succeed.

To understand the basics and to see a few success stories to give us a little hope, my husband and I were assigned to watch a lecture by Sally Rogers entitled “Can we identify and treat autism in infancy?” one of UC Davis Mind Institute videos. (This is free on iTunesU for anyone who is interested.)

During the presentation, Sally Rogers explained what the brain looks like with children who have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, explained how early signs can be detected, and how their intervention program has greatly helped children with developmental delays and autism improve.

The lecture discussed the method Sally Rogers uses called the Early Start Denver Model, ESDM. Below is a better definition found on the UC Davis website.

“What is the ESDM?

At the heart of the ESDM is the empirical knowledge-base of infant-toddler learning and development and the effects of early autism. ESDM intervention is provided in the home by trained therapists and parents during natural play and daily routines. ESDM is a relationship-based intervention, and involves the parents and families. An Early Start for your Child with Autism is a parent’s guide to using everyday activities to help kids connect, communicate, and learn. The aim of ESDM is to increase the rates of the development in all domains for children with ASD as it simultaneously aims to decrease the symptoms of autism. In particular, this intervention focuses on boosting children’s social-emotional, cognitive, and language, as development in these domains is particularly affected by autism. ESDM also uses a data based approach and empirically supported teaching practices that have been found effective from research in applied behavior analysis. ESDM fuses behavioral, relationship-based, and a developmental, play-based approach into an integrated whole that is completely individualized and yet standardized.”

In addition to watching the lecture, we were given a book, Early Start Denver Model for Young Children with Autism: Promoting Language, Learning and Engagement by Sally Rogers and Geraldine Dawson, to help explain how to apply this method at home and what was going on in our son’s brain. The book was created to describe the “approach for working with very young children with autism spectrum disorders that fosters children’s spontaneous tendency to approach and interact with others and their ability to engage with others.” The book covers so much useful information from understanding what autism is and how infants learn, how ESDM works, creating short term learning objectives and daily teaching targets, and developing imitation and play and communication both verbal and non-verbal.


Tips from the mom

  1. Do the work. If you are given any sort of materials to read or instructions to follow just do it. Committing to the program is the key for success.
  2. If you have questions; just ask! If for some reason you do not understand or feel uneasy about the process you should be in direct communication with the practitioners who are working with your child. Everything works better if you do the work, ask questions to fully understand what is going on. Think of it as being back in school. You wouldn’t let the teacher blather on for an entire semester about something; if you didn’t understand you would ask wouldn’t you?
  3. Always remember every kid is different. After watching the video I was extremely excited to see one of the children featured start talking after only a few weeks of therapy. When that time came and went with my son, I was a little sad that my child hadn’t picked it up so quickly. Instead of being too upset, I had to come to the realization that all children are different and every child in therapy progresses at different rates.


This will be an ongoing series of articles of our story through an evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and the end results during our son’s last two years of therapy. I will share with you from a parent’s perspective what we have learned and in layman’s terms explain our son’s diagnosis and the type of therapy used to help him succeed.

I hope you enjoy this read and please know no matter how bleak it may seem you are not alone when you are going through this. Parents around the world are in your same shoes looking for support and love; you just have to be open to talk about it. 


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