Denver Model (Playschool)

Description: The Denver Model preschool was originally developed in the 1980’s at the Colorado Health Sciences Center to offer a developmentally-based, child-led curriculum focusing on symbolic thought, communication and social/emotional development for children with autism. More recently, the model was adapted for toddlers with autism spectrum disorder. This adaptation, called the Early Start Denver Model, combines developmental approaches with applied behavior analytic teaching strategies.

Research Summary: The original Denver Model has not been tested in well-designed studies. In 2010, a randomized, controlled trial of the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) was conducted. Two groups of children were compared: one group received the ESDM; the other group received a variety of community-based services. The group receiving ESDM showed some improvement on measures of cognitive skills and autism symptoms relative to the group receiving community services. However, to date these models have not been compared to established, comprehensive early intensive behavioral treatment models.

Recommendations: These models should be presented by professionals as preliminary at best and encourage families who are considering this intervention to evaluate it carefully particularly if the child receives no other therapies.

Selected References:

Dawson, G., and Burner, K., (2011)  Behavioral interventions in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder: a review of recent findings, Current Opinion in Pediatrics 23, 616-620.

Selected scientific studies:

Dawson, G., et al., (2010). Randomized, Controlled Trial of an Intervention for Toddlers With Autism: The Early Start Denver Model, Pediatrics, 125, e17-e23.