All fun and games

A new therapy model being used by Victoria researchers is aiding the development of children with autism through the process of play.

Called the early start Denver model (ESDM), the new form of therapy uses fun and games to target the children’s development of language and communication, social interaction, imitation, cognition and daily living skills.

“This could be by building a puzzle or block tower together, playing hide and seek or singing songs,” says School of Education PhD student Hannah Waddington.“

The idea behind the model is that play is a good tool for teaching and is also typically how young children learn. This is in contrast to traditional approaches where a child with autism might sit at a table and be taught using cards repeatedly. With the ESDM, it’s a combination of effective teaching techniques within play-based activities in a child’s natural environment.”

Hannah has completed two studies using the ESDM with children under five years old and says the results have been positive.

“In one project, I provided therapy for four children with autism for three hours a week for 12 weeks, and in the other, I taught five parents the ESDM techniques and they applied them with their children.

“Overall, all of the children improved on their communication, functional play and social interaction skills. In the future, I want to look at providing both therapy time with me and supporting the parents.”

School of Education lecturer Dr Larah van der Meer says what makes the ESDM valuable is that the therapist demonstrates to the parents what to do with the child.

“In general, the ESDM differs from what is available in New Zealand because as well as providing this support for parents, we are delivering the therapy ourselves.”

Hannah is the first person in New Zealand to be fully trained as an ESDM therapist.