A new research study at the Victorian Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre (ASELCC) based at La Trobe University’s Children’s Centre, in collaboration with the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC), has been published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Lead researcher Dr Giacomo Vivanti worked closely with the ASELCC team to track the progress of children with autism who received the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), an internationally recognised intervention program for toddlers and pre-schoolers with autism. Sixty children aged between 18 months up to 5 years received ESDM intervention for approximately 20 hours per week at the ASELCC, and the team followed their developmental progress over the course of one year.
This research marks the largest sample size to be published in any ESDM study to date. The ESDM curriculum is often applied in individual settings, whereas this research demonstrates it can be successfully implemented in a group environment.
While children in the program displayed significant improvements in response to the intervention the research is also one of the first to highlight the potential impacts of the ESDM in toddlers versus older children with autism. The results demonstrated improved language outcomes in younger children regardless of their language ability at intake (aged between 18 months to 4 years), when compared with older preschool aged children (aged between 4 to 5 years old) who showed fewer gains, particularly if they were non-verbal at intake. This reinforces the value of early identification and diagnosis. Indeed, the team at OTARC recently launched a mobile app to help parents identify early signs of autism in their infants and toddlers. Together this work aligns with La Trobe University’s focus on championing early identification, diagnosis and intervention programs to support children with autism to improve their learning outcomes and development.
About the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) The Victorian Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre, based at La Trobe University, is comprised of an transdisciplinary team of autism specialists, including early childhood teachers, occupational therapists, psychologists and speech pathologists who work with children using ESDM curriculum to improve their language and learning outcomes.
ESDM is an internationally recognised curriculum, and requires intensive specialised training, before a practitioner is certified to deliver this intervention and conduct assessments. La Trobe’s team now has over 10 staff trained in ESDM. In addition to their work at the La Trobe University Children’s Centre they also train other health and education practitioners in ESDM at other institutions within Australia and overseas.
This article was originally published in the La Trobe University’s Uninews, 2 May 2016