Early intervention is child’s play

In July, at La Trobe University’s Children’s Centre in Melbourne, the Margot Prior Wing opened its doors to 32 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families. The new wing is an Autism Specific Learning and Care Centre, one of only six in Australia.

Girl painting sun Autism affects social and communication skills and the Centre plans on using an innovative approach  called the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) to teach children from as young as 12 months  how to transition into school and everyday life.

Professor Sally Rogers of the M.I.N.D. Institute at UC Davis, California, and co-founder of the ESDM, has been visiting Australia on a Fullbright Scholarship, and for the past week she has been training staff in ESDM at the Centre.

The staff at the Margot Prior Wing are made up of a mix of childhood teachers, child carers, psychologists, occupational therapists and speech pathologists. The ESDM approach equips specialists and parents with the necessary intervention skills to engage, communicate, and teach young children who have Autism or are at risk.

Studies have shown that parents with autistic children have higher levels of stress than parents with a child suffering from any other kind of illness or disability. Depression can sometimes morph from stress and without balance or likeminded support, a child’s disability can debilitate the parent.

‘Stress comes from the demands of the child, a lack of resources, help and understanding in community settings.’ Professor Sally Rogers explains, ‘a setting like the Centre, where parents can bring children to receive excellent treatment and then get their hair done, like any other family, adds balance to their lives.’

As part of the ESDM approach, parents undergo a 12 week program to help better understand the principles involved. They learn how to engage with their children in the same way the specialists do at the Centre, through communication techniques and play activities.

A recently published paper showed children with Autism gained better social, language and IQ skills through use of the ESDM.

 ‘One of the exciting things for me here is the opportunity to look at the impact of ESDM in a group setting,’ Sally says.

‘The group environment sets up a strong foundation for children with Autism to engage with others while building important relationship skills. It also fosters a community for parents where they can receive support from staff and others in similar situations,’ she adds.

Sally will continue contact with the Centre after she leaves Australia. Skype  will keep staff and Sally in regular conversation for the next six months of additional training and her seven day intensive training of staff at the Centre will end with a series of lectures about her program when she travels to Tasmania and then Sydney.

The ESDM is the only program available to children at the early age of 12 months. Sally has found that ‘social skills children learn by the time they’re preschoolers predict their peer competence all the way through the rest of their lives. Having children integrate in this environment is the best way to help children with Autism.’

For an interview with Professor Sally Rogers Contact

Lisa Prowling

La Trobe University Media Officer on
T: 03 9479 5517 E: L.Prowling@latrobe.edu.au