Parent Based Autism Program Flops

Autism program for toddlers was not better than time spent with a therapist

(RxWiki News) The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) has been helpful at giving toddlers with autism a head start. However, when parents were the ones administering the program, it was less effective.

In a recent study, some parents were trained to deliver ESDM. Children getting EDSM from their parents met with a therapist once a week.  The other group of children received the usual care from a therapist.

The amount of time spent with a therapist, and not the ESDM program, was related to how much toddlers improved.

"Ask a psychiatrist about autism programs in your area."

Researchers, led by Sally J. Rogers, PhD, of Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (MIND) Institute at the University of California in Davis, enrolled 98 children with autism, between 14 to 24 months old, and their families.

Part of the group did the ESDM program. The other part did other types of programs in their area.

ESDM was developed by Dr. Rogers and Dr. Darwin, authors on this study, for use in children with autism who are under 2 and a half years old.

It combines working on behaviors (applied behavioral analysis) with play-based relationship building.

The parents who were trained in the ESDM program were taught specific things to do with their child. They were taught to embed learning activities into play and to help children be more socially responsive.

For 12 weeks, parents did the program with their children, in addition to spending one hour a week with a therapist.

Children in the other types of programs saw a therapist more often.

The researchers found that EDSM was not better than the other types of care at improving language skills and social skills.

Instead, they discovered the children's improvement was related to the number of hours spent with a therapist.

Past studies with ESDM were more intense. In other ESDM studies, children saw a therapist for 20 hours a week and parents worked with their children at home

The authors concluded the parent delivered ESDM was not effective.  They suggest toddlers may benefit most by programs that offer more time with a therapist.

This study was published in October in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

This study was funded by grants from Autism Speaks and the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Rogers, Vismara and Dawson, authors on this study, have made financial gains through books published about the ESDM program.

Review Date: 
October 12, 2012