An internationally successful autism programme for children aged 18-40 months is launching in the UK. The USA's early autism intervention programme, Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), is being launched by the Re:Cognition Health clinic.

Hailed as one of the top 10 medical breakthroughs in 2012, ESDM is a play-based therapy that has rapidly been adopted in the USA, Canada, Australia and France as an effective method for treating toddlers with autism. Several published studies have shown evidence of improvements in cognitive skills and IQ, language and social behaviour of young children who have received early treatment with the ESDM programme.

Some of the red flags / possible early signs of autism in babies and toddlers include:

• No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by 6 months or thereafter

• No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by 9 months

• No babbling by 12 months

• No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months

• No words by 16 months

• No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months

• Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age

Developed at the UC Davis Mind Institute of the University of California by professors Sally Rogers & Geraldine Dawson, ESDM uses intensive play-based activities embedded into daily routines to target language and self-care skills but also areas such as motor skills and non-verbal communication. The model also places focus on the quality of parent-child relationships and their emotional interaction, whilst teaching is carried out in a way that mimics the natural process of learning of children with typical development. 

autism eyfs blocks

ESDM is the only early intervention model to be validated in a randomised clinical trial as effective for children with autism spectrum disorder aged 18 - 48 months. Children with more significant difficulties were found to benefit from the programme as much as children with milder symptoms. There has also been some evidence that improvements in language, social behaviour and autism symptoms, correspond with normalised EEG brain activity during social abilities tasks. Parents and carers are fully involved in applying the model and receive support, feedback and help to understand the principles of ESDM and develop their skills in applying some techniques used in the method.

The importance of early intervention in autism:

The earlier the intervention commences, the more successful the outcome for the child because the brains of babies and toddlers are very malleable, enabling quick acquisition of cognitive, motor and social skills despite their difficulties due to autism. Therefore, an early diagnosis of autism is imperative. 

Dr Paschos, consultant psychiatrist in intellectual and developmental disabilities, says, “Confirming a diagnosis of autism early is a complex process. There are early signs in many cases, most notably absence of some key developmental skills. Such deficits may be subtle and difficult to identify especially for first time parents who have no benchmarks to compare the development of their child to. 

“I would strongly advise parents to discuss their concerns with their health visitor or seek medical advice at the earliest possible stage. Naturally, friends and family or misinformed professionals, try to reassure with the view that every child develops in a different way. Whilst this is correct we can now identify, with high accuracy, early symptoms of autism in children as young as 2 years old. Early diagnosis can lead to early intervention which has recognised benefits."

autism eyfs dr paschos

The ESDM service at Re:Cognition Health is led by Dr Dimitrios Paschos and a team of experts who work collaboratively in conjunction with the family and  the child. ESDM can be provided in the clinic, the child’s home or a group environment, such as a nursery.

Re:Cognition Health is a pioneering brain and mind clinic specialising in the diagnosis, treatment and care of people with symptoms of cognitive impairment or mental health concerns. Clinical services include traumatic brain injury, neurology, children’s neurological conditions, Alzheimer’s and dementia and mental health. The Re:Cognition Health Clinics in London, Essex, Surrey, Birmingham and Plymouth are also major centres for international trials of disease-modifying and new symptomatic drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions. The multi-disciplinary team work collaboratively to provide a full service, patient-centred approach using the latest progressive medical research and evidence based treatments.